Thursday, June 30, 2011

This thing we have for trees.

Many years ago I heard a snippet from a Christian theologian (amongst other descriptors he wears) Matthew Fox about our relationship with trees.  In essence, he opined (excuse the pun) that we humans, as the first relatively erect primates, had a special affinity for trees above other members of the plant kingdom for they too were the first of their kind to 'stand up'.  Maybe there's something in this, but I think it's fairly undeniable that we humans do have a special love for trees.

Could it be their utility?  If it were utility that gave affinity then surely annual grains, the means by which we directly (and indirectly through animal feed and pasture) have managed to increase our numbers so dramatically these last few generations (and thatch and build our houses and so on), would be the object of our awe and love.  Not many odes are written to the humble wheat, rice or millet though.

As you probably know, I'm organising my nascent funeral and natural interrment right now, and there's that classical image to contend with in my mind - the planting of a tree to commemorate a loved one.  I have seen tales where people have been buried foetal-like, with a fruiting tree planted atop, and later excavation has revealed a human-skeleton-shaped network of roots as the hungry tree recycles the body's nutrients and carbon back into use, seamlessly, over time.  Who wouldn't love that?  But it requires a tree.  I have no control over what will happen on my gravesite, bar that I understand the area will be revegetated with endemic species over time as the sites are utilised.  And some of these plants will be trees.  I'm fine with the grasses too, but the trees........the word romantic springs to mind.

Perhaps you're English, and think of the venerable Yew tree, omniprescent in English graveyards since time immemorial.  Apparently it was to do with securing a supply of Yew branches for the revered English longbow that would not be desecrated by an invader; but never mind the practicalities.  And almost every culture that has trees (and few don't, Iceland being almost unique in this I think) has a Tree Of Life somewhere in its heritage.  The Norse tree Ygdrassil, the Kabbalah.....the list is endless.  Even the Icelanders remember the tree from their Scandinavian roots.  Wherever you go in the world that has even a few trees, there are sacred stories and myths.

Yet, they are only plants, a family among many.  Was Mr Fox on to something?

When we think of the environmental destruction we mindlessly wreak our thoughts quickly turn to the great forests and rainforests of the world, destroyed, logged, or just simply burned at the rate of however many football fields a minute, and we shake our heads sadly.  This is a thing we can comprehend.  We are in this information age always there to hear the sound of that tree falling in the forest.  Despite perhaps more pressing environmental issues, grassroots (pardon my pun again) campaigns to save forests garner probably wider community support than many.  Because of the trees, I guess.

So what of our immediate lives?  Increasingly we live in urban environs where trees are scarce.  So often the suburbs we build are clearfelled before building too, and then trees are often selected to be small, no-fuss, easy-maintenance.  And with climate change, wildfires are wilder than ever and suburban tree-phobia has begun to take hold in many parts.

The noble tree is having all our problems projected upon it, it seems.  We love them in numbers, but we fear them as well now.  Coexistence is problematic, just as it is with our fellow man.

I have lived in areas with tree preservation orders - where you need a permit to lop or remove a tree above a certain size, and they.......feel different from places that don't.  I would humbly submit that by sorting out our relationship with trees, we would go far with sorting out our relationship with our fellow man.

Lastly, this is a favourite getting-to-know-you game: What tree are you?  Let me know, I'll be very interested in your answer.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

Stubbornly being un-stubborn, and what happens then.....

OK, yes, I admit it.

Not as if you haven't noticed anyway, but I have a really stubborn streak and can be what is delightfully known these days as a 'control freak'.  Well, nothing quite like a near-death dive to clear one's head.  Or as some nameless wit once put it; "an imminent hanging does tend to wonderfully concentrate the mind".

I've gone through my life, and even more so this last phase - the whole illness thing - being as self-reliant as I can be, for many reasons.  Probably the most powerful of those reasons is, at root, simple insecurity, aka fear.  The sort that always doubts whether you're 'good enough', or lovable, all of that, and so sets about constructing one's external circumstances to consciously create that thing one believes is the best/most impressive/most lovable/most unassailable outward version of oneself.  The sort that believes that notions like dignity, nobility, stoicism, honour, are all worthy virtues one can attain and should cultivate for the betterment of oneself and one's fellows.  And that kids itself that the true virtue in these sentiments is all there is - that it isn't also, at heart, about a fear of not being liked, or worth sharing one's company.

So I've very stubbornly clung to the altruism, until recent years, when I've very stubbornly stuck into clearing myself of the delusional aspects.  But letting go of that need to influence one's surroundings.......well, ask the donkey.  There's some base, inherited nature right there in all of us too, isn't there?

People, we all believe our own bullshit most of the time, it's a fact.  Except maybe for that 1% in the back of the mind.  The same 1% that reminds you that you actually cannot fly or walk through walls whilst under the influence of various nefarious substances.  There is a logical and positive reason for it, socially, though and that's to get harmonious with our fellows.  Or as they say in shamanism, "fake it 'til you make it".  For what we think creates what we say; what we say creates what we do; what we do creates who we become, and the world we move within.  Which is why believing one's own bullshit is not necessarily a bad thing, if it gets you past things you need to outgrow.

Ultimately though, all that conscious-creation stuff is all at best remedial.  It's using the mind to overcome the vicissitudes of dodgy and disuseful learnings we have made since birth.  To get anywhere closer to ourselves than where we found ourselves on the way in, we have to go past the bullshit - past the consciously creating ourselves part - and surrender to what Divinity has in mind (call it what you will).  Even when (perhaps especially when) the surrender is to helpless suffering, as I had to do just a little while ago.

For three days and nights in that hospital I went through the questing in the Dark Place, as I fasted and did not sleep, suffered physical pain, and most challenging of all - was forced to watch my mind and my mind alone, fighting it out with the fear of my death.  The realisation for me that despite all the work, all the cleansing, all the spiritual and emotional growth, all the stuff beyond the bullshit conscious creation business even......that I was still afraid, was........harsh.  I sent out a plaintive cry at the time to the Void Of Online, likening my feeling to that of the migratory buffalo: The buffalo on the riverbank, the slow one in the herd with its ass in the jaws of the crocodile.  You could see in my buffalo eye the perfect knowledge of the inevitable, the acceptance that this is the Way Of Things, but also that skein of panic that runs through every cell of material being, and shouts "kick that fucker off!  Kick! Kick!"

Turns out I jumped the croc this time, but that eternity of angst within its grasp has both taken its toll and ultimately blessed me with something.  A new space within.  Without.

I cannot really describe to you the things/memories/patterns/energies that I let go of, lost and grieved for in that time.  Nor can I find the words for the space and light that in the end filled me and opened a new window on life - brightening it and washing so much of my overlay of what I thought of as 'self'.  Really like cleaning one's filthy sunglasses, it was.  The world for a time is not sullied by the spots and films of grime in front of your eyes, insinuating themselves between you and everything you gaze upon.  Let's just say that it all brought me a little closer to Cleanliness, of Unselfness, in a good way.

But here, at this point exactly, is the stubborn rub.

I'm still here.  And my memories of who I have been and all the consciousness I have brought to bear on my self-creation will always remain intact - a vast screed of past upon which my oh-so-tenacious ego can attach and anchor; all the more powerfully to project yet another pretend future.  We are stubborn, we people, in behaving as though we were immortal. We carry a protection from past pain that I like to call our forgettery.  And the grand irony is that the better I feel, the more I bounce back in all ways of wellness from this last terrifying, scarifying experience, the more that stubborn part of me wants to stay and party, to do its thing, consciously drive a new me-made self into being - the thing that for the majority of my life I thought was what made me me.

Thus, stubbornly, I now try and remain apart from that ego. Stubbornly, I am being un-stubborn in this way.

The challenge the last few days has been an odd one.  I had to let go and be helpless, and I achieved that cleansing surrender for a time. And then I did a thing that was harder for me than almost anything else I have consciously chosen - like piercing one's own flesh slowly - I asked for help, humbly and honestly.  I made the decision to let all those people reaching towards me actually touch me materially, and suddenly, I found myself as if rolled beneath a giant set of waves; pummeled into the roaring sand again and again, challenged over and over.  You see, every gift makes me feel important and deserving - it feeds my ego, that thing I know is the very thing that makes me fear death, through its need to keep consciously creating a narrative of life - attachment to continuance of itself.  Perversely, it is being bolstered by the very mechanism I thought would help me dissolve more into our commonness; our humanity, our Stardust Oneness.

And yes, it does this too.  Every gift humbles me, and as I see this conscious me-ness seemingly inflated I see great chips of my volition and ownership fall away, dissolve back to nothing.  I grieve their loss at the same time I celebrate it.  Can this possibly make sense?

At present, there is a balance.  But like a novice high-wire artist, I am wary; relaxation does not yet come easily, despite it being the one and only thing that makes the tightrope walk of life work.  I (my ego) am conscious of my (my ego's) will to thrive and once again be master of all it surveys.  To repeal the precious surrender.  Stubbornly focussing on being unstubborn.  Eventually, this faking it will surely make it, and the conscious stubbornness must fall away.  I hope.  But look carefully, see what I did there?  I planned a future again. D'oh!

These things are difficult to articulate, and I hope some truth shines out that you may apprehend it somehow.

At heart, what I am doing is thanking you, dear reader, for bearing witness.  My process requires at this point that I share this taint on my being, this wart of ancient conditioning that I guess we all carry the mark of to some extent but which for me right now seems almost like an enemy.  My Self.  I shall not fight it, but nor do I will its continuance.

I am no longer really afraid, by the way.  I realised that there were just a few key practical things underpinning my few truly loved attachments to this world that I have yet to do before I can surrender without fear the next time the croc, or the wolf, or the bear strikes.  And I'm doing them.  These small acts - planning my funeral, tying up some miniscule details, and going through the process of discovering exactly how much of the circumstances of my death and moving on I do NOT wish to control after all - are delivering me into a new acceptance.  An acceptance that my shitty self-ness will stay the course, and that really it's OK.  It's funny.  In fact, it's absurd.

So truly, deeply, I am grateful for the magnificent mirror of The People - showing me up in my warty yet occasionally satisfyingly glowing glory.  For loving and arguing.  For being angry and for offering laughter.  For the smiles and the tears.

And I hope y'all are still enjoying the ride.

NOTE: you can still help out. Donations are still open by following this link:

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Today I am grateful

There is a Maori phrase which I cannot now remember but which roughly translates as
 "the most important thing is the people, the people, the people". 
 Today I feel the strength of that in a truly profound way.

Yesterday I decided finally to act on the suggestion of a friend (thank you) and ask for help with my final act - the rituals of my death.  Since sharing my story with those I have come to know online - so many through my involvement and advocacy in real food for us tubefed folk - my world has expanded exponentially.

I have been a very social person in life: And also not.  Moves around the country and long hours of work plus certain needs to leave certain past previous truths behind meant my world, my world of people, shrank and dwindled.  But of course, in the skein of life that lives outside of time the real friends and connections remained.  I never really felt alone, but at times, not ...........sufficiently connected.  

I sought help online with my tube diet.  I found it.  I admired, and still admire, all those who help and who bravely feed their young and their loved and themselves real food when they can despite such staunch opprobium from such a wide swath of medical opinion across the world.  Accidentally almost, by dint of some time on my hands and my passionate nature, I became one of those who helped as well.  Now I find this repaid a thousandfold with the thoughts, heart, and spirit of friends and strangers alike.  I am strangely uplifted, yet humbled, simultaneously.

And the old friends reappeared.  I did not so much seek them out, but over time they just......popped up, and how I cherish those reconnections.  Some have grown even stronger with the passage of time, perhaps as we grew in similar directions despite not hearing from each other for so many years.  None have lost the spark.  New old friends have been made from once-acquaintances.

So today, as I start the joyous task of preparing for myself - well, really for you - the shapes and flavours, the heart and soul, the music, tears and laughter of my funeral, I am celebrating this:  The people, the people, the people.  For it is in others that we find so much of who we have become.  The necessary opposite of still, personal silence.

Is it unfair to be honest here?  To say that one person stands out?  I am torn.  So I shall be honest.

There is the old Zen koan, which goes something like this: "There was a monk being chased by a tiger, running and running for his life, suddenly confronted with a lack of anywhere to run - a sheer drop down a cliffside.  He hurled himself off, and as he fell he managed to fling out a hand and cling on to a small craggy bush tenaciously growing on the rocky cliffside.  There was a single, tiny berry growing on the bush. How sweet that berry tasted!"

My week has been a little like that.  I was scared for a time, and I was running.  I saw an end; an end that was not peaceful nor far enough away, and I was found wanting in my preparations. I flung myself over that cliff because I simply had no choice but to surrender to the fates.  Meeta is the berry.  How inexpressibly sweet; how boundlessly nourishing of soul to have a friend in life such as her.  In that moment when the people, the people, the people, shrank from well as the Godhead void, there was her.  For this too, I am grateful.

So I accepted that suggestion, and let the energy come to me in material as well as spiritual ways as well, and when this morning I logged on to find so many had given of their well-needed coin to help us pay for my ritual of passing, it reminded me that sometimes the people, the people, the people, are the berry.

Thank you all, deeply - thank you.

You can still make donations by following the link below.

I will finish by sharing a poem I have just discovered by a very dear old friend, Mark Reid.  So cheekily titled, so.....brutally subtle.

The Falling God?

I heard the aphorism
a god-shaped hole in every heart
& wondered
what could possibly
make such a hole.

NOTE: You can also buy Mark's latest book a difficult faith (from whence this poem came) from Fremantle Arts Centre Press, HERE.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

A Humble Request

Reading back a few posts, you'll see I have been a bit overwhelmed by the love and kindness of so many.  Well, since that last post I took quite a dive and now the new plateau stretching out before me has much more of a feel of gradient.  In short, I'm going an little downhill, a little faster, and am more awed then ever that just sharing my journey on Facebook and here brings so many others such.....I don't know....good.....stuff.  (If you're new here, please try reading THIS first )

People keep asking how they can help.  A friend made a suggestion.  Here it is:

Please go there and consider a donation towards the cost of my natural burial at Fremantle cemetery.  I'd love you to come, too, as it will be a great day whenever it comes - not a sombre affair in the least.  A celebration of all the life and loves I've lived and shared and believe me....there's been some.

There's more info on the link.

You can find out more about natural burials at Fremantle HERE.

Thank you.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Just a little overwhelming.

I posted the other day on - well, what else do most people blog about but themselves? I guess it was a bit more raw subject matter than you might see any day of the week, but my rules as laid out when I started this blogging caper were essentially condensable to one - honesty.  You can read it HERE if you've not done so already.

Thins is, it feels like it went just a tiny bit viral.  Not VIRAL viral, but a few friends posted it out to their networks, get the idea.  I've been getting emails and messages from people I've never even met online - messages of such love and compassion and honesty that; look, I was hoping not to cry any more today but here I go again.  And I'm just a little bit overwhelmed.

I can't keep up right now with answering everyone personally, but I will get there, I promise.  This post is just to say thank you to everyone.  I'm guessing from what many people have written that there are lots more who have read the post, had some things they might have wanted to say, but not known how to say them.  This post is to thank you as well.  The thoughts really do count, I'm sure.

Honestly, I just wanted to express what it's like to be in a spot like mine is like right now, because I figured that on the one hand it's pretty unique, but on the other....we're all there, all the time.  I didn't think it would lead to me feeling so loved, or to hearing so many wonderful stories of other's amazing journeys, or to hear so many heartfelt words of spirit and spirituality.

I'll answer you all, but for now, thank you.  All of you.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

A New Beginning?

That's a positive way to look at it, I guess; a new beginning.  Just as I was sitting here, contemplating whether to try and organise my thoughts by employing my internal honesty-in-public pressure and blogging about the issue, a friend's Facebook status popped up - all timely like.  The gist was about how she was feeling a new opening, or returning, of self confidence, self-acceptance, embracing her uniqueness, and how this banishes one's self-doubt and fears. etc.  No small thing.  I replied with yays and yeses, as she is in fact quite awesome, but immediately felt a hypocrite.  For here I am suffering, and I can't decide whether it's dire, noble, or if anything I think about it is even relevant.  Whether it might just simply BE.

Lately, I've been on a downward run, for sure.  More pain, mainly from my back, and also my GI tract is getting worse.  Slower, painful, etc.  Speech mostly gone now.  Hands nearly all clawed-in, all symptoms pretty much worse.  In consult with the Doc, we've experimented with various painkilling techniques, as chronic pain truly does suck, and naturally there's a trade-off.  Most analgesia also deleteriously affects my already-dodgy digestive system, and increases my nausea, so we've had to add meds for that.  Got to a place where there is little or no pain though, finally, which is.....nice, in its way.  But the price is, I am now, really, a proper cripple, and beset with all other manner of unpleasant symptoms, like restlessness, cold/hotness (yes, at the same time), insomnia/tiredness (again, simultaneous) and this weird, all-body general discomfort.  There just are not words.

So, pain, maybe?  It's a possibility, but then I remember how that is, and that my symptoms are not all drug-related anyway, there'd still be other shit to deal with.  Oh yes, that's right.....I'm dying, aren't I?

You forget, see.

Or rather, the knowledge just engages you that much more with how much of life you can participate in, so as things deteriorate, you just take your joy more in what's left.  Pardon my slip into the second person there - it's a defense mechanism, you see.  I mean to say I have been finding my joy in what is left, but now - the list is so small I don't have to write it down to take it to the shop of life.  A 'milk, bread, eggs', sort of thing.

Today I faced the choice starkly - go into being in pain, suffering that way, and being able to participate more with things like physical activity - being able to drive a long way, go down the hill, see some sights, do some shopping outside my home town, visit friends or family - possible, but then, I've seen me after 3 days of full-on pain.  Ask around, chances are you know someone who never gets relief from pain, it's shit.  Plus, over time it makes my other symptoms worse as I tense and stress. Or, accept that my new, low-energy self, with chronic discomfort and annoyance, unable to move far from a comfortable chair or bed, unable to drive far, even as a passenger really, and that I'll more likely than not never see a place beyond the few miles around unless some medical necessity and transport dictates it.  Fucking grim thought,  I can tell you, because it's not like I'm on the edge of a rainforest rivermouth and sandy beach in an eco-lodge in Costa Rica here, you know.  My house is fine, the garden is, well, 'getting there', but now there's not much I can do except look at what needs doing there anyway.

Look at Mr Sad Sack complain!  What rights do I have to be so down about it all anyway, given all the inevitability of suffering in the world?  I guess because we must need to suffer.  Maybe that's why we're so bad at just dying.  Because surely, not long ago, my situation would have seen me off well before now.  As I've mentioned before, we seem so loathe to just let nature takes its course - because we can change it!  We are a part of this nature, and can act on it, so why not?  Somewhere, there must be the balance.  I don't know where it is, but I have made a few decisions lately.  And this is not news to my wife, nor will it shock those close to me, so it's not a publicity stunt (pfft) or avoidance of personal communication.

One thing I've decided is that I won't be doing TPN.  That stand for Total Parenteral Nutrition, or intravenous feeding in layperson's terms.  It's how we keep people alive when they have no gut function these days, and yes, one can live on it successfully for years, if nothing goes wrong, or if nothing else is wrong.  But to me, it's too far a step into the unnatural, and I won't be doing it.  This means, bluntly, that once my gut does finally stop working, I shall remove my tube and allow myself to starve to death.  Takes a couple of weeks, I'm told, unless you refuse hydration also, and then it's fast, like 48 hours, but nastier.  Symptoms are manageable on the journey, and I could possibly stay at home, which would be nice.

Another thing is that I might stop watching Global Village and nature docos for a bit, as I am wanting to cry too much seeing places I will now never see at all.  A bit pathetic, but I love this planet so very much, and once planned to travel frequently and far.  Ah well.

A third, undecided, but nascent thought is that I might have a little going-away party.  I have a few friends left here and there, and if my condition progresses at the rate I suspect it will, then I might enjoy a chance to say 'thank you' in person to those who have filled and loved in my life who are still local enough to make it.  That way they won't feel like they have to go to the funeral either (and I have that sorted now too btw) if they don't want to, I guess :-)  Humour, people, humour!  Perhaps a luncheon at the Zoo, or Mundaring Weir, or somewhere lovely.  I could manage that with a little help, I'm sure, and I'm confident of waiting for the better weather too.  Just a thought.  maybe next birthday, yes, perhaps.  We could live FB it and my overseas friends can be there too, as it were.

Making these decisions and planning a little helps some with the suffering.  It does take you out of the present temporarily, which can be a relief at times, but more importantly it's empowering to decide things, makes you feel still a participant of sorts, rather than just being totally strapped in on the ride.  But the real journey for me, I suspect, is how I am transformed - or not - through the suffering.  Quite clearly, decisions like the removal of my tube or more extremely direct measures against life are always there, but I've made my choices.  As above.  The drugs change things, but do not remove the existential stuff, nor all the physical discomforts.  I must just spend more of my day living it, suffering and all.  I seem to get a good 4 hours every two days on the drug cycle where I can write a bit, so if I'm super diligent, I might even get my half of the book finished - but it's no longer the thing-to-live-for type of goal it once was.  That's OK.  It'll work out as it needs to.  And, of course, 'miracles' happen.  To quote, again, a twit I follow - 'The road to Lourdes is littered with crutches, yet not a single wooden leg'.  There are limits in the physical world, it seems.

So, yes, a new beginning beckons.  As the old saw goes, the 'beginning of the end'.  As I said to the doc the other day, after all the changes, deteriorations, losses,'s this new reality of spending so much time just sitting that makes me feel like I'm really dying now, emotionally.  The physical facts have always spoken for themselves.  I think it's time to embrace the me that is now within sight of that final slalom gate on the big downhill run.  But just to be clear, I still have a lingering fondness for the idea of a massive exit courtesy of a rogue bit of space junk just as I'm watching some lovely thing in the garden.  Well, they talk about the laws of attraction and all that, so.....that'd be superb.

After all, there's half a million bits up there now, travelling at 25,000miles an hours, and it's all gonna come down eventually.....