J. Bruce Evans
These are scattered pages from my journal written between October 11 and December 28, 2004.
"You've got cancer" is, of course, very bad news; and much later, "We think we've got it all," is an obviously welcomed message. But in between these pivotal points in time, I was invited to Cancer School and, I am pleased to acknowledge now, the professor had much to teach me.
I haven't graduated, obviously (Does anyone ever?), but I have passed the semester exam "with flying colors," I'm told. So now I can go back and review some of the lessons I've learned--at least the courses I've taken.
First, shades of "nothing new under the sun," I realize now that none of these lessons are truly new for me. Little that I have learned in Cancer School is actually for the first time. All these things I have, in a sense, "seen before,"--that is, recognized in mind's eye, sometimes written about, and even preached to others. The difference now is, I suppose, more a matter of degrees than originality. Things that had, as it were, "passed through my mind" before, are now more "absorbed into my body."
Cancer, good teacher that it is, has nudged me across the wide chasm between "knowing about" and knowing--that is, moving from "intellectual information" to existential knowledge. It has guided me in "knowing first hand" some of what I have previously only encountered in my mind's eye or "out there, second hand."
Also, I don't now assume that I have completed any of these courses in life, or that I have finally arrived in any way, as though I won't regress or fall back into my habits of blindness, "forgetting," as it were, what cancer has taught me.
But for now, my life is expanded; living is more precious, thanks to cancer.
Among the gifts cancer has led me to accept beyond seeing only are these:
ABOUT THE UNKNOWN
One of his first lessons came in the mirror Cancer held up reflecting my fear and habit of fleeing in the face of any unknown by trying to erase it with knowledge or hide in ignorance.
For example, one of the first things I did after getting the biopsy results indicating presence of cancer cells in my prostate gland was start digging into my father's death records for information about how he died. Even though I had obviously "been told" and even gotten and filed his Death Certificate, I never really let the facts soak in, namely, that he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and then died 3 months later.
Now, with a similar diagnosis, I wanted as much information as possible about what had occurred for him, given what I now know about genetics. Learning that renal cell carcinoma followed and then led to respiratory failure, gave me some data about family history.
Next, I went to the web to educate myself about this gland and this type of cancer, including its treatment and prognosis, etc. Now, with good reason, I became far more diligent in educating myself.
I skip here over the many practical values of gathering such information, in order to look more closely at my underlying habit of using this path to avoid facing the unknown without it. Obviously "facts" can be useful in countless other ways; but what came clearer to me than ever before was the way I use them to obscure the face of mystery--as though I am constitutionally incapable of standing openly in its presence.
Also, I began to recognize more clearly some of the prices I pay for blindly living out this habitual mode of reactions, for example, bodily stress, along with its many dangerous consequences. Soon after the bone scan, following biopsy, and before the results were in, while I was forced to "live in limbo," I went for my regular massage. My masseuse reported that I was "in bad shape" and worked for 3 hours to reduce my various tensions. Then, when I went back 2 weeks later for my next massage, after getting negative results on the bone scan, deciding on and scheduling surgery--that is, moving from the unknown to the known, she asked immediately after beginning work, "What happened to you?" I asked what did she mean, and she replied that I was 180 degrees different from two weeks before--that is, quite relaxed, unstressed and not in need of her "hard work" this time.
The only change I could put my finger on was my move from the threats I feel in "not knowing" to the comfort I apparently take in "having information," especially in regard to decisions made. I speculate now that this is just a more obvious example of one of the prices I have long paid for making my body do work more properly done by mind--that is, facing the unknown openly, with recognition, rather than blindly rushing to erase it with knowledge.
With lessor long range consequences but more immediate costs, I see too how such tension and bodily stress reflects in insensitivity and consequently missed daily sense pleasures, including conscious sexuality.
Everyone knows about death in general and most realize to some extent that "I'm gonna die sometimes." Many cloak this information with other notions about "going to heaven" and, in effect, living forever--that is, being immortal, while some fewer seem to go with the more reasonable idea that "this is it."
But as best I can tell few truly absorb the objective information into themselves, so that they/we actually live with the fact of my death as "real" and indeed "could be anytime." For me this gulf between possessed knowledge "in my head" and true existential awareness first became more apparent while I waited for results of my prostate biopsy. In this truly unknown period of time I realized that all my prior ideas and experience with the death of others, including conducting many funerals, losing loved ones and parents, and counseling many as they dealt with deaths in their own families, existed at some distance from who I am.
Existential knowing--as I have long theorized, is truly different, often miles away, from intellectual information "held" in one's head. Previously I "knew I was going to die--sometimes," but obviously now, that data "hadn't soaked in." In the language of my theories on how human experience works, it only existed at Stage 3 (Conceptions) and was yet to be absorbed in Stage 4 (Becoming)--that is, truly into my body/self.
In that dark time of waiting, however, "it," more nearly than ever before, became "I." Over those long 2 weeks I faded in and out of awareness, often "putting 'it' out of mind," but then again waking up with the dim recognition that in fact death could truly be at hand.
Finally, when the results were in, and I knew I did indeed have cancer cells in my prostate gland, there was actually some sense of immediate relief. Somehow "knowing for sure," even if it was bad news, seemed easier than "not knowing." As noted above, I at once got involved in acquiring more information, gathering facts about treatment options, etc. I think now that this mental process, though practical and necessary, helped shield me a bit from the heaviness of the facts.
Still, I seemed to feel relieved "knowing" I "had cancer" but had several options apart from dying. Then came the bone scan to see if it had spread through my body outside the prostate gland. This event was scary in that I did not know what a scan entailed; but the weekend of waiting for results after the "piece of cake" event was quite something else. I realized, while confronted with the possibility that more than one gland might be dying, that indeed "I" truly might be. I woke up once from a restless nap sweating and with tears in my eyes, saying aloud, "I don't want to die."
Only then, I think, did the commonly held information about human mortality, soak "into my bones," and I actually began the move from Stage 3 to Stage 4 in natural experience. Death, as it were, made the transition from its limited place in my mind to a more complete residence in my body, that is, in my conscious self.
Even so, I noticed that when I received a "negative report"--that is, no spreading detected, the relief I felt must have occasioned a retreat from the awareness which seemed so acute during the five days of waiting. Also turning immediately to face the decision about "what to do"--which type of treatment to pursue, must have allowed me to further return to the illusionary safety of "being in charge" of my destiny.
Now that I have decided on surgical removal rather than radiation, etc., I can return to review my experience so far. Somehow "making up my mind" about what to do frees me to be more conscious about what has happened in the meantime.
My first major awareness--noted above, is greater clarity about my long glimpsed pattern of avoiding the unknown "at all costs," usually by cloaking it with information and "reasonable (to me)" theories which either "explain it" or else bring it further into the light of my mind. In either case, I have systematically defused the power of mystery--which I intellectually realize to be "always at hand," by placing some type of knowledge, either acquired or conceived, between "it" and myself.
I have long recognized and intellectually accepted the omni-presence of real mystery in life--even about life itself, and been continually confronted with my embraced pattern of constant avoidance; but still I have persisted in activating my coping mode, trying, as it were, to keep mystery at arm's length from who I am.
But in the blinding light of cancer's classroom I have "had to (dared to?)" see both the existential fact of ever-present mystery and my ingrained habit of avoiding it "at all costs," which, paradoxically, I also see to be at a very high price. The true "facts of life," I think, are that in the "real world" we always exist in the midst of actual unknowns, including the reality of death at hand--"on our left side," as don Juan put it. We "never know what is going to happen," including "how it really is," what is truly right and wrong, and certainly "who we 'actually' are."
At the same time, as human creatures with an enlarged brain and the capacity for consciousness, including the ability to store vast amounts of perceptual data (called "knowledge"), that is, to "know much" about "how things work," we always exist in the actual unknown, armed, as it were, with considerable information.
So far, so good. This is the blessing of being human. But, and this is our common downfall: all too easily we pervert finite, and therefore limited, knowledge into conclusive certainty, escaping the facts of useful human "niscience" by assuming, as it were, godly omniscience.
And this is the curse--"original sin" in theological language. Instead of creatively using our inherited capacity for expanded knowing in quest of instinctual satisfactions, including survival and its various enhancements, plus effective self replication, along with our awareness of mystery and knowledge of death, we pervert the gift which got us out of the jungle into a shield against actually knowing what we easily could--if only we dared.
At least this is obviously what I have done, and can reasonably suspect that many others do also. The true human challenge is to avoid--or cease, this perversion and return all knowledge to its rightful place as a wonderful mental tool, not unlike a spade or spoon, but not a savior from the challenges of existing intimately with ever-present mystery, which, as best I can tell, "lower animals" still do.
Ideally, I theorize, knowledge is used and kept as a guide, without ever being made into a blinder for protection against awesome mystery, including the ever present grim reaper--that is, we use our good minds for guiding inevitable movements into the unknown of each moment, which includes, along with all the exciting wonders, knowing death also.
When so, knowing death at hand, versus "having knowledge" about it "sometimes in the future," brings both zest and power to whatever present moments one is blessed to be given. Perhaps this was Paul's revelation in identifying the "sting of death" with personal sin rather than reality itself. "Oh death," one might truly be able to sing after forgiveness and repentance from the sin of omniscience, "where is thy sting?"
Paradoxically, the closer I come to embracing dying, including the unknown of when?, the more contained and creative I become for each gifted present now. My long identification of "salvation" with "being present" turns out to be true for me also, as I matriculate in Cancer School.
ON AWARENESS AND HABITS
Another side lesson, along with this grander revelation, is education in awareness, both inward and outward--for instance, of acquired patterns of behavior probably acquired initially in quest of survival and its enhancement, but later ingrained below the level of awareness--that is, habitually lived out blindly, even when they defeat what they were originally designed to effect, namely, better living.
This is evident to me in expanded attention to my perceptions, both inward and outward. I find myself more alert to what I am seeing--about myself and the world out there. Insights which I have long glimpsed, for instance, and even written about "objectively," suddenly become more glaring. Ordinary sights, sounds, and events become more focused in my attention. I "listen" better, both to myself and others. In general I am "paying more attention."
ON INDEPENDENCE AND CONNECTIONS
Inwardly, for example, I was later surprised to realize how quickly I turned to emailing my children about the biopsy results, even before Anita came home and I could tell her. Commonly I am fairly secretive about myself and rarely tell about my ills, etc., unless asked. But here, "out of character" for me, and later rationalized, projecting that "I'd want to know if it were them," I turned quickly to what I now see as trying to strengthen my connections.
With just a bit more hindsight now, I see that I quickly began to turn to the other side of the coin of independence/dependence, or on-my-own and connected-with. Whereas my habit is deeply bent toward independence and "not bothering others with my problems," etc., I find that I have become much more attentive to connections with others. Even at the health club, where I also tend to remain rather distant and only casually "friendly," I found myself telling others about myself more than I ever have.
Not surprisingly, I discover in hindsight, the responses of my casual friends has also increased. Today, when I would have previously gone to the gym when it is likely to be "less crowded," I realize that I will probably wait until around 4, when many of my acquaintances--and those who have responded to me, will be there.
ON "BEING GOOD"
I am also surprised to realize in hindsight what I actually did first the next day after receiving the biopsy results--that is, soon after Headmaster Cancer entered the classroom. The very next morning, after thinking about it during the night, I arose early, went to my computer, and proceeded to prepare an updated list of data addresses "for others" who "might need it later" if I die. At the time this seemed "natural and sensible." Only later did it dawn on me how ingrained my habit of "helping others" actually is and remains.
When I might have more honestly been confronting my own feelings--fear, sadness, anger?, I immediately fell back into my pattern of ingrained "unselfishness" by "trying to make it easier on others"--that is, "being good" by "trying to help others." Probably I acquired this habit in coping with my mother, even before the beginnings of conscious memory. And certainly it must be deeply embedded in my mind, if not bones, to be the first behavior to resurrect itself when the reaper came to call.
To its credit, "getting busy" in such a "virtuous" task did indeed ease the time of this transition into greater awareness of the "facts of life," including death; but this does not change the other fact that I acted-out blindly, without conscious attention to evading myself at a time when self awareness might well been paramount.
ON PLEASING FEMALES
In another arena, I found myself sharpening my attention to my lifelong, blindly operating, habit of female deference--that is, always trying to "please females." I took Bradley fishing on Sunday, originally thinking to come in by noon, and having said so to Connie; but having fun and the fish biting, we stayed the afternoon and didn't get in till dark, only to find his mother very upset with us. I immediately began to explain and, I see now, to try to placate or ease her negative reaction to what had happened--less for "helping her," than for trying to get back into her "good graces" toward me.
Commonly I simply sense a negative female reaction and automatically fall into my habit; I did so here again; but soon, even on the drive home, I realized what I had done and started to move past "feeling guilty" as though I had "been bad," and began to see more clearly a mother's natural concern for her offspring, which has very little to do with me personally.
ON SEEING ANITA
Also I have been able to look more sharply at what I often see as Anita's peccadillos, like how to make up the bed, clean dishes, pick up things, etc., and see them as simply a part of how she is, rather than blindly reacting as though I am "bad" when I don't do them, or else "have to do it her way," and hence have some need to "rebel" or unconsciously resist "giving in." With death over my shoulder, I see both her and myself more clearly, including my dark compliance/resistence pattern which has usually been operative without my awareness.
Consequently, I feel less need to "take them personally" and am freer to simply bend myself to fit, without resurrecting "giving in" feelings also--that is, like I am losing integrity when I comply with her wishes. Also, when I choose not to, I feel less need to immediately "make up," as though I cannot exist and live well outside the often small circle of her approval.
(Writing this now, I also see how much my notion of her approval reflects my own habit of taking her predictable reactions personally, rather than simply her being honest with me.)
ON SWEATING SMALL THINGS
And if I have been more alert inwardly, the same is certainly true, even more so, outwardly. With sharper awareness of limited tenure I am both more attentive to "small things" and less likely to "sweat them." For instance, after discovering that I had cancer, two other physical events--a nagging wrist injury which had led me to stop playing tennis for awhile, and an abscessed tooth causing considerable pain, somehow seemed to fall more into a sensible perspective--that is, not such a "big deal" in the context of other "life threatening" possibilities. The old saying, "Don't sweat the small stuff," has really begun to soak in. While I miss tennis, and await a report on possible bone fracture, I am rather calm about the matter, simply turning to other pleasurable activities while I wait.
Also, in the dentist's chair for 2 hours getting a root canal, I found myself "taking it all in stride" rather easily, without old feelings of "being put upon," or, "why is this happening to me."
ON LOVING MOTHER NATURE
Aside from pains, etc., I also find myself more attentive to sights, sounds, and smells in the world, like the delights of nature while fishing, the fun of catching a big one, sitting quietly by my pond, and "doing nothing" in my hammock. Aware that I don't "have forever"--as I have so often lived in the past, noticing now seems a far more relevant endeavor--no, not endeavor, as though I am "having to try," but more like natural possibility when I find the nerve to simply show up.
ON THE GRIM REAPER
So, Head Master, proverbial "grim reaper," you aren't so inherently grim after all. Even in your dark, mysterious presence, you may occasion the gift of greater light, as well as measures of power and creativity evaded when I was blindly caught up in avoiding you. Perhaps my tenure may even be extended as I come to more fully acknowledge your reality--that is, if I can find the nerve to continue matriculating in cancer's classroom.....
ON FEAR OF DEATH
I have long pondered about Paul's declaration that "the sting of death is sin." It has seemed to me that humans in general "fear death" naturally, perhaps as one of the prices of inherited consciousness which also allows us to "know about death"--no sin required.
But standing closer in awareness, if not in reality, I am beginning to catch glimpses of what Paul may have recognized that I haven't seen before, namely, the prices we pay for repressing knowledge permitted by this gift to humans more so than other animals.
Assuming lessor consciousness of animals, I have also assumed they "don't know about death" and therefore don't fear what they don't know about. But I also note that most other life forms, animals included, actually live daily in a world where "big fish eat little fish"--that is, where most all life forms are constantly subject to becoming food for other forms. This means, whether they "know it or not," most animals are regularly in "life threatening" situations--where some outside force is regularly around the corner if not at hand, either to eat them or otherwise do them in.
That is, they live daily with possible death at hand, while we human animals have been so successful with the benefits and constraints of civilization that we can most often exist in illusions of safety which easily blind us to the grim reaper's presence. We can, via consciousness, "know about death"; but through denial and repression we can also "not know" about our own possibilities and options (given the "safeties" of our society).
Point--which I equivocate about seeing and stating directly: given the strength of our shared instincts for survival, more powerful, I think, than all others, nothing "gets our attention" more, calling for zesty response, than threats to life itself. Other animals, continually subject to being eaten by larger ones are, I observe, always "on their toes," attentive to every possible danger, even as they go about their regular habits of living.
Meanwhile, we human animals, given our seeming safety and habits of repressed awareness, can easily ignore possible death-at-hand--which seems like a good thing; but, and this is the fact I continue to resist seeing: once blinded to what other animals apparently remain aware of, namely, that we too may be "eaten alive"--in spirit if not body (as in my case) at any time, we also exist cut off in consciousness from the most primal of all motivations, including the zest and excitement inherent in its activation.
I conclude that "fear" of death, and certainly its repression from awareness, is not inherent in humanity, but is rather a cultural phenomenon only. We are not, as it were, born with death fears, but rather acquire these stances in reaction or accommodation to social factors. More clearly stated, Paul was right. It is indeed our personal sin which gives death its "sting," not its omnipresence. And our sin, more precisely, involves killing death in awareness--that is, negating our "think-ability," consciousness which would otherwise allow us to know the very thing which literally gives life its greatest motivation, namely, the ever-present possibility of dying.
Not that death itself is a "good thing," but befriending its potential presence as an accepted possibility, even inevitability, rather than avoiding it as one's greatest enemy, invites degrees of presence commonly missed when we are caught up in illusions of safety--as though "it can't happen to me." Even the option of suicide, short of the dangers of murder, that is, the embraced choice to live or die, can enhance freedoms experienced when death "loses its sting."
Our error ("erring" or sinning) is, I conclude, not God's or Mother Nature's (in the way He/She designed the "facts of life"), but rather our own, in the ways we have devised to "dumb us down" from seeing clearly, indeed, knowing first hand this final fact also.
UNGRIMING THE REAPER
MYTHS OF THE HAPPY STORK AND THE GRIM REAPER
Two powerful mental memes are freely operative in present society, personified in the perpetually happy stork and the always grim reaper--that is, the established notions that birth is always good and happy, and death is inevitably bad and grim. Regardless of any facts to the contrary, these notions are passed from one generation to the next as though they are the real facts of life (and death).
Although this established idea is obviously useful and generally true, I am beginning to see its limitations and dangers when substituted for present-tense thinking in immediate situations. My own surgery for prostate cancer, scheduled tomorrow, along with its inherent invitation to reconsider death's reality, leads me to think about the prevailing grimness of the reaper; and this in turn leads my inquiring mind to also look at its opposite counterpart, namely, the corresponding meme about happy births.
In general, the prevailing mental stances, which we all, as it were, inherit from society and, in the absence of personal thinking, may continue to hold and live by if something like cancer doesn't invite otherwise, are these: birth--the new life of any infant, is inherently good and cause for joy and happiness; and conversely, death--the ending of any one's life, is inevitably bad and reason for sadness. All this regardless of circumstances or any other "facts of life."
But in reality, circumstances are always involved in and around these simple mental notions. Life in the real world is always "regarding" and never "regardless"--that is, present-tense thinking always takes all available facts into account, and does not automatically assume any such conclusions as innately good births or necessarily bad deaths. Many other facts exist and, if one is truly thinking, will be taken into account before jumping to these common conclusions.
Easy examples include: deformed babies, population explosions, too many children to support in one family, unwanted pregnancies, etc.--as related to any infant's birth; and excessive pain, incurable illnesses, woes of old age, social punishments, timeliness, etc., as possible facts surrounding any death.
Point: automatically assuming a happy stork and grim reaper cannot but short-change the process of natural thought which reasonably takes into account many other possible facts, such as, those listed above. If I "keep on thinking," rather than remain determined by the existing meme personified in the grim reaper, then I may open the doors of my mind to many other potentially positive gifts commonly hidden under the reaper's dark cloak.
And, projecting my speculations back in the opposite direction, to realize how automatically I have accepted the happy stork idea, without even considering other real factors--such as, whether or not a baby is truly wanted, and what its life may be like in the presence of unconscious rejection by parents (cloaked, of course, with smiling displays, etc.), I can see my corresponding blindness at both ends of the life/death process.
Not that these memes aren't generally accurate, that is, give appropriate shape for much real response to birth and death, but that automatically assuming them "without thinking" may in fact become an easy substitute for remaining continually present in immediate situations--as is essential, I conclude, for living well in the here and now.
My immediate goal is, of course, related to the reaper. Having slipped into awareness on the coattails of cancer, I want to explore more fully any other gifts he may bring, short of my own demise. I don't want to let popular denials, which I too have previously practiced blindly, make me remain brain dead in this regard. Surely I wish to remain alert to how strongly I want to live--as inherited in my genes; but I also want to look more sharply at whatever else may be hidden behind the reaper's grimness.
I want, that is, to un-grim the reaper, and also let the stork drop any phoney smiles.
So called "fear of death" is not a true bodily fear, but rather a psychological fear, a mental notion, a near universal belief, we might say, which cloaks an equally universal real fear of life, especially in its zesty proportions.
Evidences for this conclusion include: a) my own experience after learning I had prostate cancer (e.g., seeing grass as greener, smelling roses as sweeter, listening to music of water, luxuriating in sun, tending to my business quicker, getting more done, e.g., all Christmas shopping done before November 30th surgery, year end taxes ready in November for December mailing, etc.).
b) Animals, soldiers, hunters, athletes (players out to "kill the enemy"), kids and games; whether or not they "know about death" as we humans do, all other living creatures exist daily, even moment by moment with potential death at hand--that is, constantly subject to being eaten by others. This fact in effect continually calls them to fullest presence, sharpest attention, readiness to move, poised alertness--in other words, zesty, care-full living.
The same is true with soldiers facing death in battle, hunters in quest of killing game, athletes engaged in symbolic "killing the enemy," and kids playing games.
Two observations: 1) Are we unwitting victims of a social conspiracy to "protect" us, beginning with children, from bumping up against, truly encountering the death of others--such as, pets and relatives? Are we trained to see death as "bad" and impossible to encounter? Is "fear of death" socially supported, even the denial of natural curiosity about it? Certainly thinking about death, looking at it, is condemned/denied.
2) In learning to repress instincts in favor of memes, we personally learn these social lessons; but even if death were not hidden by society, would we still deny it on our own?
Confinement and denied access to familiar options, e.g., dressing myself, climbing stairs, driving my car, competing, playing tennis, and peeing for myself, etc., has paradoxically invited me to see the extent to which such established habits yet determine my life--that is, how far I still have to go in embracing freedoms which in fact are already given to me.
Wearing a catheter is obviously a considerable restriction on personal freedom, only beginning with loss of choice to pee for myself--with its spin-offs in limitations in dressing, walking, driving, and any fast movements. This, of course, is in consort with many other confinements.
Constraints and confinements result in forced dependencies on others who, under the circumstances, choose to take greater responsibility in care (e.g., emptying catheter bag, bathing, etc.). These enforced freedoms (like, not having to get up to go pee), which at the time are also socially acceptable to care-takers, set the stage for this particular lesson. While "not having to do things," either for self or others, and consequently freed, with social sanction, to do as I please (within the obvious constraints), it begins to dawn on me just how many of my normal choices of actions, both for myself and others, are actually made on the basis of external expectations, such as What They Want, plus my own habits of trying to please others.
I have long seen the opposite side of this coin, namely, how exaggerated and unrealistic prevailing ideas about personal freedom commonly are, as based in old notions of "free will," "doing whatever you choose, if you try hard enough (have faith, etc.)"--that is, the outer limits of self-determination in the context of genes and memes (inward and outward impersonal forces).
I have in the past gradually come to see illusions of godhood, as in omnipotence, omniscience, and immortality--that is, my blindness to real limits surrounding all human choices. But a catheter, et al, brings these sins into clearer focus.
The extent of my typically repressed and/or denied wish "to be taken care of (return to the womb?)," commonly cloaked by a stance of quasi-independence ("not needing anybody").
I have, for longer than I can remember, lived independently, as though I were self-sufficient and wanted to do everything for myself. In fact, I have resisted, even rebelled against efforts of others to "do things for me," as though they were a threat to my independent existence.
I have sometimes dimly acknowledged hidden delights in "being babied," and taken side glances at dark motivations for many of my diligent efforts to "help others" or otherwise "be good," namely, a denied hope that they might "return the favor" or reward my "goodnesses," my efforts to "take care of them," by voluntarily "taking care of me" in return, without me having to admit I sought such.
But given social permission to "be needy" and obviously "taken care of" by others lets me see two other facts I have commonly missed: 1) "Being babied" ain't all I have had it cooked up to be--that is, I find less satisfaction in "being taken care of" in these symbolic returns to the womb than I must have secretly imagined it to be. Certainly there are degrees of satisfaction in "being served" and it is "nice to be waited on," but I have, in my efforts to deny such wishes, obviously over-estimated their inherent pleasures.
2) Which leads me to a second realization: Freely chosen self-caring is far more satisfying, as well as practical, than are the lessor delights of being babied. I am relearning what all small children seem to naturally know, and probably I too once did, before I got caught up in acting independent while cloaking wishes for service from others, namely, "it more fun to do it for yourself"--all the way from tying one's own shoe strings to "taking care of oneself" in far more personal matters.
Aside from immediate pleasures inherent in activating instincts for self-survival, and expanded self-confidence in discovering just what one is independently capable of doing--there is the additional fact that inherent knowledge of personal desires (what I want, how I want it) allows me to do a better job of satisfying myself than any other person (with less knowledge of my desires, plus agendas of their own) could possibly do for me. In other words, because I know more about what I like than anyone else, and am less likely to be distracted by contrary desires, I can more easily please myself.
I can, it turns out, actually do a far better job of taking care of myself than anyone else, and, for a bonus, it's also more satisfying.
SACRAMENT OF LIMITS
I borrow this term, which I first heard from Carlyle Marney at our last meeting before he died, to name a truth I am only now beginning to see clearly.
Forced limits of what I can and can not do, which could hardly be ignored, let me look more clearly at these facts of life I have commonly ignored.
Any surgery obviously requires placing yourself "under the care" of a doctor (and hospital system) and giving up personal independence--that is, forced confrontation with obvious limits in what one can and can't do, even in regard to basic necessities, such as, movement, going to the bathroom, and feeding oneself.
Ordinarily, by carefully arranging my life, I can ignore the fact that similar limits are also present at every other juncture of life--only held at bay from my awareness by my successful ordering of my world, including my habits of inattention to their presence.
By limits I refer to the outer edge of one's can-do-ness as related to actual control of worldly circumstances. Certainly we humans inherit considerable powers which, when activated, allow us to manage many elements in our environment to our own advantage. When we do a good job of worldly management we can easily come to focus on our successes, feeling confident in our powers to determine our own fate--or so it seems at the time.
The fact that human powers for self-determination always are and remain finite (limited) may easily be obscured with illusions of far greater control-ability than we actually possess, even feelings of relative omnipotence, omniscience, etc. This, combined with the psychic powers of self-repression (selective inattentiveness and denial of what is actually visible), easily allows us to live-as-though we are gods, even without consciously realizing we do so.
When so, limits, when forced into awareness, are inherently threatening to any such illusions of godhood. They are, that is, bad--to be avoided whenever possible and otherwise extended as far as possible.
Paradoxically though, confronting real limits has let me see the other side of the coin too, namely, that along with the delights of freedom there is much to be said for accepting limits. Once embraced, they seem to bring other freedoms which more than compensate for what they seem to cost.
Marney, following his heart attacks, preached on the sacrament of limits--implying that there was indeed something sacred about them. That feeling still seems a bit lofty for me, but at least I can now view them in a more friendly fashion, especially when they are obviously real.
FEAR OF DEATH
'Tis said that man, the "thinking animal," is the only creature who knows about death--which he therefore naturally fears.
But I am beginning to think that so-called "fear of death" is not literally natural. First of all, when one says, "I am afraid of dying," the report which seems to be about a natural emotion of fear, may be more clearly seen as a thought, a mental notion, which in fact has little if any emotion, including fear, attached.
"I fear death," on analysis, is more likely to be a resurrected and repeated statement of an idea voiced in the language of emotions--but not an actual, present-tense feeling. One may indeed be honestly voicing an idea he holds, but my attempt here is to distinguish this revelation as literally being a stated thought, a mental notion, rather than a bodily emotion.
Secondly, even though man may be (we don't know this for sure) the only animal who knows about death, it doesn't necessarily follow that such knowledge is inherently fearful. I theorize that in fact this is untrue. Death, I suspect, is no more naturally fearful than is birth.
But another mental process may become operative in the presence of this knowledge, one which we commonly name with an emotion (fear), but is in fact an idea devised for cloaking what is actually occurring.
I digress to consider other possibly relevant data, namely, the observation that given a powerful instinct for self survival, for "staying alive at all costs," none of us animals are so naturally "called" (gene directed) to being alive, to being totally present with all senses alert, mind fully active--that is, "being who we most completely are," sans all pretense, as when we come face to face with death, as in perceiving danger to ourselves--in my case, cancer cells.
In war, for example, when life is at threat, men may become more fully alive, more completely their masculine selves, than at any time of peace. (And so when other male instincts are operative, e.g., competing with other males or while seducing a woman.)
Greater presence, increased attention, more fully becoming our natural selves, zest for living, "umph," "gusto"--these seem to be the more natural results of becoming consciously alert to any instinctual activation, especially of the deepest and strongest of all urges, namely, to "stay alive" or avoid death.
Conclusion: Greater zest in living is the natural reaction to awareness of danger to self, especially the ultimate threat of death. The more I am aware of death at hand ("on my left shoulder," as don Juan put it), the more attentive, even excited, I become about present living.
Could it be that this truly natural fact is somehow related to what we commonly take to be the opposite?--that is, that it is not so much death--which we actually know so little about, that we fear, as it is zest for life, the single-minded purposefulness, which threat of death naturally invites?
Could it rather be that our deeper fear is related to living a naturally zestful life as prompted and invited by awareness of death, than of death itself?--that is, that it is not so much death--which we actually know so little about, that we fear, as it is the zest for life which awareness of death naturally invites? Could it rather be that our true deeper fear is more related to living a naturally exciting life as prompted and invited by awareness of death, than of death itself? Might our stated notions about "fear of death," parading as actual fear, actually be but cloaks for our true fears of being "really alive" as prompted by death awareness?
In a word, is our prevailing "fear of death" but an upper level cloak for an even deeper "fear of life"--especially in its more delightful and "fully alive" proportions?
I think so.
But how could that be? It doesn't make sense. Don't we all naturally seek pleasure and avoid pain--that is, want to have fun, to really live free and exciting lives? Theoretically so. But in practice another agenda may be operative.
Although these are our natural, pre-civilization desires, success in any society may best be achieved by repressing many natural desires (genes) in favor of direction by social desires (memes). We are all invited by our social groups to deny instinctual directives and instead live by the rules of the groups in which we find ourselves, beginning with our mothers and first home.
One aspect of this familiar adaptation may involve functional suppression of natural pleasure desires which are difficult to manage in home and society, e.g., zesty living, especially when it includes sexy elements.
So, a common human dilemma must be: what to do in the face of such often contradictory directives: genes saying, "have fun (seek natural pleasures)" and memes replying, "but only if we say so"--or only those which fit in with established rules?
The easy out, and, I conclude, the one most often taken, involves, generally speaking, learning to say "no" to genes and "yes" to memes--that is, repress genetic urges in favor of "what you should do (obey memes)." A little fun perhaps, but not too much!
And so we commonly learn--with good social reasons, to tone down natural desires, especially the most exciting and particularly zesty ones. Then, with practice we learn to survive, moderately, as "good citizens," living well below our inherited capacity for full presence, exciting living.
But, I continue to theorize, along comes some powerful invitation to show up naturally, as we truly are beneath our functional social repressions--such as, danger--and now back to my original subject--or the greatest of all callers to really live, namely, death.
Death, who more than all else, says clearly, "get with it," show up, be fully present with all natural capacities embraced and activated, be who you are if you wish to survive and live well.
But at the same time our well learned social voices are also present, reminding us, "Be careful; don't get too excited; don't get carried away with being yourself."
It is just here, I speculate, in our universal human dilemma when death calls for our sharpest awareness and our social learning says, "Hey, calm down" that we commonly come up with mediating ideas, such as, "I'm afraid of dying" as a functional cover for turning down a powerful invitation to truly come alive in the face of potential extinction.
If truly turning on life in its fuller natural ways seems to be threatening, then why not make an enemy of that which invites us to do so? Fearing the invitation to life which death brings, it must feel safer and easier to say we fear death itself.
Conclusion: I suspect that if truth should ever be known, we might find that "fear of death," including all our socially and religiously acceptable supports for its common denial (such as, dressing cadavers as though alive, belief in afterlife, etc.) is but a cover for our deeper and even more threatening fear of natural life and its inherent forces for creative living now--all made more precious when we embrace potential knowledge about death.
FEAR OF PAIN VERSUS FEELING PAIN
Pain, they say, can be a great teacher. Perhaps true; but early in life, I now suspect, I must have dropped out of class in favor of living blindly with a psychological fear instead.
Returning by force to Cancer School, I also had no choice but to enroll again in the class called Pain. Like it or not, the regimen of needles, biopsies, surgery, post-op recovery, staple removal, etc., left me no choice but to deal with hurting. My only real option was: how would I do so? Would I opt for blind resurrection of the crude way of psychological coping I had acquired after my early drop out? Or might I truly listen and perhaps learn from pain for the first time?
To some degree I made the latter choice for the first time.
Now that my blood has passed pain's tests, my staples are gone, healing is in process, and the teacher has stopped holding class--at least, I suspect for the holiday season, I can pause to review my test scores, look at what I learned--or didn't.
My first recognition is the fact of lifelong luck in being able to avoid Pain's classroom. So far, unlike many I see and hear, I have lived a relatively pain-free life, somehow avoiding regular required attendance--that is, without, e.g., headaches, stomach aches, bone breaks, and various other painful experiences which seem common to so many others. Whether by good fortune or care, I cannot say; but whatever the reason, I now see that Professor Pain has rarely had me in his classroom.
Even in my prior brushes with the teacher in past surgeries, dental work, and periodic checkups which required the needle, etc., I seem to have been successful in limping by with my self-acquired learning and mostly missing the classroom.
My second recognition is a clearer perspective on my acquired mode of coping with pain, without the benefits of taking the course--that is, flying, as it were, uneducated, and by the seat of my ignorant pants.
"Fear of pain" is the name I now give to what I am beginning to see more clearly. Rather than truly confronting this teacher--enrolling in class, listening to lectures, doing my homework, taking the tests, etc., I blindly groped my way around his classroom with this psychological device which bears a very misleading title: "fear of pain."
I digress to note that I am coming to more clearly recognize the difference between existential pain and what I have previously categorized as psychological emotions--that is, actual bodily feelings and so-called emotions which are "in my head" rather than in my body.
Psychological emotions, though named with feeling words, are more clearly seen as ideas or thoughts, notions in one's mind--often with little or no actual physical feeling involved. In extreme cases they may be named phobias, e.g., "fear" of heights, close places, etc. Though called "fears" they are actually notions or mental stances probably acquired to protect one from circumstances which might, if encountered, lead to an actual bodily fear.
Relevant here is my recognition that my primary experience has been with psychological "fear of pain" rather than actual encounters with the teacher himself. I have used this mental trick, as it were, to evade going to Pain Class--with, as noted before, a fortunate degree of success till now.
For example, my "fear of needles," reflected in avoiding shots and blood tests, not thinking about being punctured, tensing up and not looking when I was, etc., kept me away--"protected," I thought, from the actual experiences themselves, which may or may not have been actually painful within themselves.
Getting my staples and catheter removed yesterday, I was again able to see the difference between my "fear of pain"--the head notion I took to the doctor's office, and the bodily pain I actually experienced in the physical processes. As it turned out, the first--my psychological "fear," was (lucky for me!) vastly greater than the second. It might, I also know, have been worse; but here I am pursuing my emerging recognition of major distinctions between the two, with hopes of moving further from such blind devotion to my head notions (as evidenced in "fear of pain" but obviously extending to the far reaches of countless other unrecognized habits which unwittingly require the juices of life for their maintenance).
When I am blindly possessed by psychological "fear of pain," I am, I now see, withdrawn from presence to feel real pain, whether great of small, and consequently to respond appropriately rather than react predictably, regardless of actual bodily experience. My habitual thought patterns, intended, I surmise, to protect me, actually remove me from an immediate situation (as in, not looking at a needle, being naturally curious, etc.), and consequently end up backfiring, cheating me of being present, plus the learning inherent in any event (e.g., what I can and can't stand).
Larger pain is obviously the most forceful teacher, with greater lessons to bring; but lessor pains, minor discomforts, tingling sensations, etc., and often available for daily guidance in remaining present and careful about self caring.
I have, I now see, like so many other males, learned to ignore many such instructions, in quest of"'being brave," "manly," etc. ("no pain, no gain"). Unwittingly, in so doing I have also partially dis-embodied myself, vacating the premises, in effect, and consequently cutting myself off from potential guidance inherent in attention to minor bodily discomforts (like moving when tension is felt, resting when tired, listening to my stomach when eating, rather than going by food on the plate, etc. etc.).
My goal now is to more fully re-inhabit my body, remaining attentive to its directives via lessor pains, and responding appropriately, rather than escaping into head notions, like "fear of pain" and habitual patterns of bodily ig-norance.
I digress to note the difference between true or legitimate self confidence born of actual, personal experience (e.g., presence when staples are removed, versus trapped in "fear of pain) and on the other hand, phoney confidence based on head notions only (as acquired from being told by others what one can (or might) do or be).
Real confidence, I now see, only comes from actual experience--discovered can-do-ness , and not from mental notions, either acquired from others who tell you ("You can do it") or conjured up personally (e.g., through "positive thinking," etc.).
I suspect that efforts to boost the self-confidence of others are as vain as attempting to enhance one's own by mental gyrations (like, "talking to oneself" positively) rather than daring to find out experientially if and what one can actually do/stand.
Latter such efforts, whether done by well intentioned parents and teachers to children or privately to oneself, can only result at best in an inflated ego which temporarily protects one from actual experience, yet cannot but remain fragile, constantly subject to deflation, and at worst, become a shield preventing true encounter and the only kind of learning which leads to legitimate self confidence.
Fortunate is the child who does not fall for such well intended efforts (or their opposite), either by parents, friends, or school systems, and slip into identifying him/herself with an inflated ego (equally subject to deflation by negative feedback), rather than remaining present for his own learning via "hard knock" experience.
Or, more relevant to me here, is daring to evade resurrected notions, such as psychological "fear of pain," rather than choosing to remain present with, e.g., catheter and staple removal, and actually find out what I can and can't stand via personal experience.
DON'T WET THE BED
Once established any habit seems to hold power
over one who practices it
the older a habit is, the longer and more often it has been practiced,
the harder it is to break--or so it seems
In time this metaphored mode of living
as though one were in fact determined by habits
so powerful as seem impossible to break
appears to be "just the way it is"
Only when I dare scratch my way back through layers of time
to points of origin
do I begin to recognize my metaphored mistakes
and realize that the only power any habit holds
is what I have blindly given to it
and if I risk the rigors of unrepression
I can in time withdraw ancient projections of might
and absorb them back into myself
where they have actually always been
below the levels of my habitual metaphored escapes
from being who I am
Wetting the bed, it turns out
is actually not as bad
as I have long lived as though it were
and freedom to do so returns me to powers
I have long invested in not doing so
which, paradoxically, once reabsorbed
also become available for creative living
both in the bed
LEARNING TO PEE AGAIN
Lesson: Wetting your pants, or for that matter, all bodily functions, including "getting caught" naked, are not nearly as big a deal as I have commonly lived as though they are. In fact, there is much to be said, as all babies must know, for peeing whenever and wherever your bladder wants to, instead of only when you should, and then in private.
The downsides of wearing a catheter are of course obvious, even past fear, embarrassment, and discomfort; but there is something to be said, especially for us old guys, for being able to sleep without getting up to go the bathroom for a whole night!
Which leads me to speculate about the phenomenon of "toilet training"--which typically becomes such a big deal in early childhood--an arena for challenge, learning, threat, praise, criticism, sometimes punishment, as one necessarily matriculates in this primary course in Socialization 101. Soon, it seems, we come to consciously forget the trials and tribulations, including the loss of freedoms we give up, willingly or not, once we successfully pass the course.
However--which brings me back to now, it seems that assorted shames, signaled by embarrassment about, e.g., "wetting the bed" and/or "our pants," often remain long past childhood and early toilet training--especially for us males with greater options of bladder control and hiding than are commonly afforded females.
The pragmatics, even necessity of "potty training" by whatever means, including privatization of urinary and bowel functions, plus general hiding of nakedness, in the process of socialization goes without saying. Also various side issues, e.g., constipation, rebellion, pride/shame, have been well explored elsewhere. But I am now thinking that typical toilet training may also have serious side effects, especially for boys.
Might it be that all too typical male dis-embodiment--that state of lost connections between self and bodily wisdom, which females tend to keep, begins with toilet training? Although males are typically less in tune with many aspects of body knowledge, such as, sense data and emotion based (right brain?) urges ("feelings"), I speculate that this condition is not genetic.
I doubt that males are inherently less sensitive, less emotional, less intuitive, less creative, more socially inept, more unrefined, boorish, or "just don't get it" than females, even though observation often indicates otherwise. Rather I suspect that this general gender differential is learned, acquired in one's own life time--that is, more related to the way we come to live than the way we are born and naturally are.
Although many other social factors, such as, learning to "be tough" and "not to cry," etc., may contribute to boy's acquired dis-embodiment, I am now speculating that this costly process might begin when we first learn to value control of urges--in this case, for elimination, over feeling them constantly.
While I was learning, for example, to wake up and go to the bathroom at night to avoid the socially bad act of wetting the bed, did I begin a process even more costly and consequential than my more obvious false guilt (embarrassment, shame) about uncontrolled peeing? In my quest for "being good" to please mother (with its obvious advantages) might I also have begun then to sever my awareness of bodily urges themselves--beginning with learning to "be good" by not wetting the bed--that is, to control-by-suppression primal urges for timely (by Mother Nature's clock) elimination of "waste products," did I also learn to repress awareness of other related "feelings," such as, natural physical pleasures associated first with elimination, and later with touching these bodily parts (penis and anus)?
And might it be that what began with suppressed awareness of sense receptors related to feeling physical relief and pleasure in elimination processes soon spread to other bodily senses with their own related pleasures? In becoming insensitive to ("in control of") urges to pee, did I begin a habit which spread to wider insensitivity to other bodily urges, e.g., to see, touch, taste--that is, to be present with all sensing capacities continuously operative?
And could it be that a habit of not "feeling" sense messages soon spread to real emotions, the next level of bodily capacities? As I became less sensitive to "feeling" bodily urges, did I expand my learned mode of suppression to include "feelings" of heart as well as body? Was I beginning to learn other levels of physical insensitivity which would serve me well in a boy's world where "being tough" and "not being a cry baby" are virtues, but at the expense of other human capacities (being sensitive and emotional)?
( I pause to note that engaging in this process of these speculations, I am more relevantly trying to unrepress myself--that is, to "return to the scene of the crime" of early repressions I am yet to see ("confess") and hopefully to "repent from.")
I think now that the answer to these questions I am raising about myself is "yes" to each of them--that is, that my long process of self-repression in favor of social affirmation did indeed begin with toilet training. Even before I can now recall, while I was learning to "be good" by not wetting the bed, I must have begun a process of general dis-embodiment, of cutting off my sense of myself from instinctual urges, beginning with when and where to pee, but spreading quickly from when and where to if to be aware of other inherited physical capacities in the wider realms of sensitivity, emotions, intuition, and creativity--with their natural, associated pleasures.
In summary, beginning with learning to pee in the pot rather than in the bed or my pants, I now think I started habits of repression which quickly spread from simple peeing to complex being. What began with control-via-denial of urges to pee in the bed, unfortunately (for me, not my mother) came to include goodness-via-repression of other inherited directives to be my naturally sensitive, emotional, intuitive, and creative self.
While I am now, pragmatically, after brief freedoms to "sleep all night" granted by an inserted catheter, re-learning to pee for myself after it is gone, I hope I am also re-embracing even greater freedoms to be myself--as given by Mother Nature, before I ever came to "fear wetting the bed."
"IT'S JUST PEE"
I know that in my head. And I've never, as best I can recall, thought of pee as bad, certainly not peeing as evil. But events related to catherization and incontinence have invited me to greater degrees of self honesty. At first I simply dismissed them as "embarrassment" about unfamiliar ("forgotten") events related to early toilet training, such as, having my penis touched by strangers and wetting my pants.
But on further reflection, I think I have been moved less by conscious control of basically involuntary functions (peeing when bladder fills) than by psychic devices of repression in quest of "being good," beginning with staying in mother's good graces by using the potty instead of "going in my diaper," itself supported by shame and false guilt.
My greater challenge now is less related to re-learning voluntary control of natural nerves and muscles, than with getting past high degrees of acquired shame, and back in conscious touch with natural bodily urges themselves.
Paradoxically, the challenges of re-learning bladder control at 74 have given me a new appreciation for what I must have accomplished at 1 or 2.
I am trying to re-learn pragmatic bladder control
without forgetting the delights of living without it
to move past wetting my pants unintentionally
while still remembering primal bodily knowledge
unfettered from social virtues
I have found un-griming the reaper
to be easier than
unjudging wetting in my pants
Facts: prostate problems are immensely common in males over 40 or 50. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in males.
Speculations: Although this theory will probably never be scientifically explored, because of social norms and typical male repressions, I speculate that the root source of this common "ailment"--in all its assorted forms, varying from inflamation to benign growths to cancer itself, may lie in its relative disuse in proportion to its inherent capacities.
If we severely limited, for example, our left arms, by judging them to be bad or dirty, and proceeded to bind them up, say, by tying them to the body and covering them with clothing, and only unloosing them at night on rare occasions, then I imagine similar types of "ailments" would occur in our consequently underused left arms. They too might develop inflamation, strange growths, and even become cancerous in time.
It is a truism about the gifts of Mother Nature, namely, inherited human capacities, that each one in effect "cries out" for activation. If we can do something, then we have evolved instinctual urges to want to actually do it. As we have evolved hands and arms, they "call for" reaching out and touching things; if they don't or can't for any reason, they tend to atrophy, reflecting in assorted "ailments." As the saying goes, "use it or lose it."
As with arms, hands, eyes, brains or any other human inheritance or capacity, we invite, as it were, "problems" whenever we curtail its activation in real life.
And so, I theorize, it is with the male prostate gland.
Facts are, this small gland has evolved to produce fluids for carrying the billions of sperm regularly created in our testicles on their intended way toward exodus in orgasm. In the grand scheme of operative survival instincts, we human creatures are blindly (pre-sight and consciousness) moved to "stay alive" and "make more" of ourselves. For all humans (and other animals), this means to be regularly eating, digesting, and defecating in order to survive as individuals, plus, for males, to be oft engaged in expelling some of our astronomically high number of blindly created sperm--hopefully aimed at some waiting ova, but in either case expelled to make room for other newer and hence more potent followers.
For this evolved-to-be-oft event, Mother Nature apparently saw fit to create (via Her long evolutional processes) this small prostate gland for making liquid carriers for the all-important sperm, themselves essential for replication, our second most powerful instinct.
So far, so good.
But in the later arrival of civilized clans of us, other forces arose in the forms of memes, principally to balance and/or control the older and greater powers of genes. Relevant here are those powerful social forces aimed at containing, curtailing, and allowing this rich flow of male sperm only in their own service--transported, of course, by fluids created in the small but highly productive male prostate gland.
The summary result has been a long, extended suppression of activities which utilize these transporting fluids, namely, masturbation and/or fucking. And one side effect (I continue to theorize) is that the gland evolved to produce sperm-carrying fluids has consequently been severely "bound up" as it were, and blindly left to hold its creations within itself--just like my earlier metaphored "bound up" left arm.
And consequently, I speculate, male prostate glands in our civilized cultures, have likewise come to, as it were, "atrophy" from extended, relative disuse. In colloquial language, because we "haven't used it" to any degree proportional to its actual capacities, we have predicably come "to lose it" as a healthy organ. Restricted to being continually kept, as it were, hidden and bound up, only allowed to operate (expel its creations) rarely, undercover of darkness, not surprisingly, it "gets sick" over time.
Summary: although other possible "medical causes" are likely to be explored first, because they are more in vogue and easier to study by "scientific methods," and this theory will probably forever remain in limbo, I speculate that the true culprit in our all-too-common male "prostate problems" is systematic and extended disuse. It atrophies, I suspect, and eventually dies, as it were, from "lack of exercise."
THE SECOND BIG I
Anniversary day! It's hard to realize that my surgery was a month ago today. I am feeling good and glad to be looking back instead toward it; I'm also pleased with what a good teacher the Big C has been so far. I'd of course prefer it were graduation day--but I'm happy to be having an anniversary.
Which leads me to "Big I" number two. Amongst us veterans who are lucky enough to get past the Big C (Jerry O. died yesterday at 69, not making this milestone), there are what are affectionately (?) known as the two "Big I's," namely, Incontinence and Impotence ("erectile dysfunction"), as predictable consequences of unpredictable duration.
I have been fairly well schooled in the first, as noted before, but am getting well enough now to think more about the second. I'm sure I have much more to learn, but already I have begun to see some things more clearly, such as:
a) How much I have taken for granted, without proper appreciation, what seemed to be relatively automatic erections.
b) How greatly I have over-valued the power of external stimuli (e.g., proverbial tits and ass) in "turning me on." Previously, a connection between stimulus and response, such as, sight of a female body and my sexual excitement, seemed to be innate. But I am now learning to distinguish stimulus from response, which previously seemed automatic--that is, to recognize the disconnection between, for example, sight of fine breasts and automatic penile engorgement. Disturbed or disconnected nerves are teaching me the error of my prior assumptions about external turn on powers. No matter how sexy seeming a stimulus may be, dysfunctional nerves obviously prevent responsive erections.
c) How blind I have been to the actual place of nerves and muscles, that is, my own bodily equipment, in making "hards." My intellectual knowledge about anatomy has obviously not soaked in yet. I have long ignored what I know about the necessity of intact and functioning nerves, with no "self" connections, as critical for erections--that is, the essential place of my autonomic nervous system as distinguished from any conscious thinking. When nerves and/or muscles are damaged or severed in surgery, they cannot trap blood in the penis, causing erection, regardless of self interests or conscious desires--as I am beginning to discover.
d) How much I have, in spite of conscious thinking to the contrary, identified myself with sexual potency--and how wrong I have blindly been in this regard (not to mention so many others!).
Results: I am now learning not to take "potency" for granted; to decode power objects "out there," that is, to recognize how much my personal projections ("all in my head") seem to empower external "objects"; to have more respect for my biological inheritances--that is, a good body; and recognize sex as a function rather then the defining element in who I am.
--How much fear of the unknown has blindly dictated my conscious living.
--Death as ally versus enemy; value of gifted present moments over unknown future times; wider perspective on now versus later.
--Sacrament of limits.
--Power of shame--false guilt about body and its processes, like, nudity and wetting the bed;
Extent of my remaining bodily shame, e.g., catheter, cleaning, strange people handling privates while not sedated.
--Extent of my split-ness between head knowledge and body knowing--that is, extent of my remaining repressions.
--Commonness of all humans ("we're all in this together") versus illusions of existence as an independent self.
--Value of human connections, including social institutions (like hospitals), friends, family, and spouse.
--Long range costs of pragmatic, early, toilet training; e.g., repression of natural knowledge of when to: pee, but also to eat, rest, exercise, and uncross your legs; associated false guilt--that is attached shame, first as a learning device and later as a repression aid.
--Extent of my false pride (over self independence, etc.) and acquired shames about being human.
--Dark shadows around male sexuality, e.g., erroneous self identification with "potency," e.g., self or "me" as distinguished from "it as hard."
--Extent of my habits and routines as ruling forces in daily living, relieving me, of course, from "having to think," but at the same time distracting me from wonders inherent in being truly present, thinking for myself, and making up my mind as a natural human.
--Expanded recognition of gap-size between conscious knowledge (concepts in mind) and existential knowing--"in head" versus in body.
--My ambivalence about dependence; 3 levels; 1) surface = acting independent; 2) cloaked desire to be taken care of; 3) overlying deeper desires to truly be independent (vs. acting so); prices paid for ambivalence: 1) missed self-affirmation; pleasure, and confidence inherent in being a self mover. 2) blind vulnerability to even pretended caring of others; 3) energies wasted in unconscious attempts to con affirmation from others, e.g., pleasing being good, etc.
--Extent of my bodily unawareness, insensitivity to, ignoring its messages, e.g., tiredness, when to rest, sleep, pace, versus be externally determined by goals, time, expectations of others; a) especially positive aspects of pain as friend bringing relevant warnings versus enemy to be ignored, denied, fought, and conquered.
Ideas: 1) physical discomfort (small pain) as guideline to change, prior to demands of greater pain; 2) extent of habit of denial cloaked as “fear of pain”; often reacting to habit (“can’t stand”) versus actual pain, e.g., shots or needles; 3) greater tolerance for actual pain than previously realized.
--Gender; 1) how awkward, verbally un-skilled males are when faced with revealing empathy/or in receiving it from males; 2) how easily females do, including effective displays which seem to me to be more habit or act than genuine; 3) how natural female nurture abilities, that is, caring modes which males find to be exceedingly difficult, can be both exercised and at the same time become modes of power–as in gaining and being in control in one’s own selfing interests. 4) how skillful females are with smoothing conversation, e.g., saying what works versus what is true.
--Gratitude for small things versus taking them for granted, like peeing by choice, sitting up without hurting, driving a car.
July, 2003: Six month checkup with Dr. James Morris; PSA Test results: 3.39.
January 22, 2004: Six month checkup: PSA Test results: 3.76 ($180).
July, 29, 2004: Six month checkup: PSA Test results: 7.85. Began taking 1000mg Lipro/day (anti-biotic) for 30 days ($195).
August 31, 2004: Office visit checkup: PSA Test.
September 14, 2004: PSA Test results in at 4.85. Prostate biopsy requested.
October 11, 2004: Prostate biopsy taken ($804).
October 19, 2004: Pathology report in: cancer cells detected in right hemisphere of prostate gland.
November 2, 2004: Consultation with Dr. Morris on options available. Decided on surgical removal rather than radiation treatments ($102).
November 15, 2004: Two pints blood drawn in preparation for surgery ($96).
November 22, 2004: General physical check up, Dr. Kenny Cole.
November 30, 2004: Radical prostatectomy and lymph node removal.
December 2, 2004: Home from hospital with catheter.
December 10, 2004: Office visit; staples and catheter removed.
December 28, 2004: Office visit for new PSA test. Results: Normal
Obvious to me now, there is none. All recognitions, it turns out, are more like events in a process, with each one closing some doors and opening others to new or expanded awareness.
I am quite confident that I would never have chosen Cancer as a teacher. He does indeed appear grim, at least at first, and I do have strong instincts for survival; but this required matriculation has, even with its many challenges, been a grand eye opener, with powerful invitations to fuller living in the here and now.
I hope I will be able to muster the faith to respond wisely, and to resist ever-present temptations to regress, as though I don't know now what I actually do.
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