Last night I awoke quite clear-headed, as I seem to these days some 4 or 5 hours in to my sleep, with a fully-formed memory session, all narrative-like. I am moved to share it here.
It isn't really a confession, as although this story contains one or more Things Not To Do Ever that I did, I have no shame or regret now. No need for absolution or recognition that I have been far, far less than perfect in life. No prophylactic attempts to pervert the too-easy knee-jerk of Everyone's A Top Bloke When They're Dead that is bound to raise its queasy head for someone later down the track at least. It's just, well, a really vivid image in which I felt deeply alone, in which Death stalked about nearby for a quick cheery "Hello!" and which seems to want to be told.
The lighting in this is really important. Nighttime, no real clouds bar the occasional thin wisp of steam or exhaust from some appliance or vessel around the port. Sodium vapour streetlamps in that special orangey yellow. The hour just that bit too late for someone out on their own. Early 1990s, me and my trusty red Vespa.
The evening started out alone in a crowd, I remember this feeling clearly. A bar in North Fremantle, once called The Stoned Crow (the name derives from some Australian vernacular; an oath to "Stone the crows!" - maybe something like "holy crap!") and at this time it was probably still called that, just. The sort of low-ceilinged dive fitting maybe 60 or 70 souls inside to hear a small band, selling cheap beers and its own 'special drink', a fortified wine of evil repute called Kirup Sirup (sic) named after the country town not too far away that it came from. Beer garden out the back with wire tables and chairs and where you could smoke a J as long as you a) shared and b) maintained some semblance of circumspection and modesty in behaviour. You most especially had to ensure you kept the bar staff topped up, and mind their drinks for them too. I'd been sort-of invited by a friend from Uni days I'd run into earlier that day (Uni was two or so years previously perhaps but when you're that young it seems like an eternity) and at the time I was planless, and must have been in some in-between stage girlfriend-wise, I cannot remember now. As you can see at a glance though, young man, at a loose end, bar full of mostly happy strangers, drinking and smoking, on his scooter ... danger lies ahead. I don't remember the band, nor much of the company bar the young woman that mentioned the gig to me, but I do remember what happened after. I found myself in a dingy flat two suburbs away with two underage (as in, 17 or so) girls who'd been at the gig, listening to Hunters & Collectors on their crappy stereo, acting like we were cooler than even the coolest cats from Beverly Hills 90210 and like there wasn't a shred of sexual tension in the room. This and the smoking of bongs led me inexorably to eating a bowl of Froot Loops.
Froot Loops are for all I know ubiquitous in global western culture now, but for those who do not know, they are a teeny donut-shaped crunchy morsel made up mainly of coloured sugar and some cereal extract designed to float in milk, sparkly with an array of frooty flavours. they are the sweetest, and possibly worst, breakfast cereal known to man. They made me very, very hungry and I just had to escape the dire farce that these two girls who had lured me there I think so they could brag about having had some 'older guy' from the bar they'd illegally gotten into come and hang out with them - there was certainly nothing else on the agenda but awkward adolescent hormonal mismanagement - so I got myself to Captain Munchies.
Yes, dear reader, so far I have scooted from North Freo up to the far end of Mosman Park and back in to Freo port itself, maybe 10 km only, but in the wee small hours of the morning, smashed on alcohol and pot. I'm tempted to say "don't do this at home" but really, that's exactly the ONLY place you should do it.
Captain Munchies then was one of only three places in the greater Perth metropolitan area that was open 24 hours a day; the other two being franchises of Fast Eddy's. I parked the Vespa in an aesthetically pleasing way under a streetlight and ran the gauntlet of the too-bright neon interior to order a burger, with beetroot and cheese and egg and barbecue sauce, then sat at the bolted-down tables outside admiring the peace of the seagulls wheeling overhead in the glare of the lights from the port broken only by the occasional fellow-traveller awash in his or her own seas of fuzz. It was only at this point, and this is where my half-dreamt remembering started last night, that I became properly aware that I was very definitely doing a bad Drink Driving thing. More than that, I was going to do some more of it, to get home. No way I'm leaving the Vespa here, and it's too far to walk now.
But drunk and stoner logic failed, as so often happens, and rather than settle on the shortest route home straight up the hill it seemed far safer to use some 'back roads' around the port and then speed down the well-lit highways, over the newer, shinier traffic bridge, across the highway and straight up to High Street; home.
And here's the vision. Here, you ride it this time. Glance down at your hands. Denim jacket done up at the wrists, fingerless gloves only, resting calmly on the handgrips, shiny red instrument and headlight nacelle glinting happily up at me, speedo at rest. Pull that clutch in with your left hand, and off we go. There's a beautifully curving on-ramp to the new traffic bridge from the river road, and we slope up that at a good clip, having a wide and clear view of any traffic (none) coming along. Now there's this drinkers' logic that says if you're drink-driving you should also speed as that means you are on the road for less time and thus are less likely to get pulled over. Apart from all that, speeding across this four-lane bridge, with ample time to see and predict the lights at the end (green), late at night with not a soul around is sheer joy.
There is an odd weather phenomenon that happens at this place on the river though, especially this late at night. The cooling air can funnel down the walls of the river and cause a sudden draught to cross the bridge at an odd angle, and hit your light-as-a-wasp Vespa side-on very hard and with no warning, sending me careening across two lanes before safely bringing the whole thing back under control. Then I spent a few moments pondering my good fortune, scooting at unreduced speed through the green lights, and by the time I woke up properly I realised that at my speed (on these square tyres with these teeny brakes etc etc) if the NEXT lights changed I was doomed, so did the only sensible thing - decided to lower the percentages by veering as close to the centre line as possible and setting up for a high-speed left-hander rather than carrying on straight (if you're American, imagine this as a right-hander, OK?). My theory was that there would only be one direction's worth of traffic to dodge. All this manoeuvring meant no time for braking, so it was a pretty line-ball thing, keeping the whole ship upright.
The rest of the journey home was entirely uneventful. Not even an adrenaline comedown, no shaking as I fumble with keys to get in the house, no making it safely home only to drop the bike on its side in the driveway.
And I think that last night might well have been the very first time I have remembered that night, 20 or more years ago. Just one typically stupid youthful misadventure that happily did not end in tears, but from which no great lessons were learnt at the time (except perhaps for just how fast you could take that left on to Marmion Road) as I am pretty sure I drove whilst under the influence at least a couple more times after that. I probably even ate Froot Loops too, and certainly Captain Munchies' burgers. Never saw those girls again though.
What shoots the whole memory through is this sense of aloneness, in fact although there surely must have been other vehicles about, I recall seeing none. I wanted this landscape to myself, and drunkenly or otherwise I let Death sit close by for that time, in a comfortable place. If there was to be a regret, it would be that I did not learn that Death rightfully *should* always be allowed to sit there at my shoulder. That its proper role is as a companion in life. I do not excuse my actions, of course. But I might have learned earlier that with Death alongside, nothing in life is too terribly scary. And the lighting, direction, sound mixing, and even the casting are from a top-notch movie maker when death is part of the production.
I miss that Vespa, sometimes.
Friday, April 27, 2012
At least, it would be supposed to be bittersweet but the truth of it is, I feel entirely unaffected right now. I just found out I am not quite about to be an uncle again, you see. There is to be a birth in the family, which I shall almost certainly never see. In the fiction account, this would be a poignant moment full of introspection, ponderings of the great balance between one life in, one life out, and even better - the babe is due the day before my next birthday. And if you were writing it you'd choose the day before or after too, not the day itself - just a tad too cheesy; so this does feel like it should conform to the rules and I should grieve even if only a little wistfully at the loss of my future with an extra niece or nephew in it. But no, it's not like that at all.
Or you could write it not so much as a wistful moment but as a tale of some sense of enlightenment, you can imagine such a setting and event might trigger a whole revealing cascade of sacred visions about the eternal nature of life, the impermanence of all things and so on. But it's not like that either.
I'm really happy for the pregnancy, it is a joyous and much-desired thing for everybody, and I love imagining the happiness of everyone with a new arrival, the whole family shenanigans. And that's sort of all I've got. Huh. No reaction but pleased. Which is fine.
On the other hand, there is this tiny conundrum, just a little mental round stuck in my head the last half day: That the lighter I become, the heavier I feel. Of course it makes perfect sense as for me lighter must equal weaker now, but it's not all like that on the inside. At the same time as my body and in some ways my mind grow heavier, denser, more gravitational, there is an equal and opposite lightening and expansion in me. It too is in my mind and thinking, and I can sense it in an 'energetic' way also. I am painfully aware that I cannot describe this, and it's not like no-one's tried all the words for this stuff before and still we have no way ...
It's the direction, that's the thing. Heavier is down, or more accurately in, where lighter is up and out. This is going both ways. I am stretched even as I gather density at my core, like a badly-shaped micro black hole. In many ways, it's oddly enjoyable, that is when it's anything at all.
Thursday, April 26, 2012
That's how it's been of late, uniformly patchy. Reliably without rhythm. Random, you could even say, but less predictable.
A few days back the whole thing, all of life, was about fading. My being was consumed with the whole energy of fadingness. At the time I figured maybe when you get two major systems of one's self - in this case my body and the part of my cognitive self that has discipline, focusses and concentrates on stuff - more or less attuned to the same frequency, like the frequency of fadingness, it becomes overwhelming and you can go deeply in there.
I remember weeping at the understanding in my cells, in the feel of my marrow, that fading is what I now am. The weeping time passed, and I was OK with it. Saw myself still me enough, just fading all the time. Fading became less a thing and more a point on the compass - part of the quadrant my path leads into, as least as far as I can see in this light.
Then it changed, we entered another patch. This was a moment of searing love and kindness, directed everywhere, and I was simply radiant for a little while. Only a little while. Like a recharge break or something, in between these fossil layers of accreted self I traverse backwards now, seeking source. Life did its bumbly thing, a jumble of smallnesses of emotion, tiny patches of once-normality now permanently shot through with this new light, this fadingness, rendering every little thing potentially nostalgic, and thus new again in my heart. I got tugged around from patch to patch for a while.
Today though, I had visions. I awoke looking forward to a session with Robyn in the afternoon, our amazing friend and bodyworker. It's hard to pin down what it is she does when we have our sessions, but she uses Bowen Technique, massage, is skilled in things like Trager, is a master reflexologist ... a hands-on healer in other words. We seem to mostly do my feet these days as the rest of me has such little flesh, and because I love it. It worked out to be mainly head and feet today, and whole new things happened.
A while back a Buddhist friend, on hearing the news, reading my last post, was moved to write me "Don't be afraid when the visions start" and I tucked that away in my memory, for it seems in my experiences in living and dying to date that the Tibetan Buddhist way of thinking is extremely close to the money with what is happening in my dyingness. I have great respect for their knowledge tradition.
So when the visions started, I had this friendly admonition there and it was fine. At first. I saw myself as an energy body from the outside - this is not a new thing at all for me, but the clarity and 'place' I was seeing from were radically ramped up and different - and as with the realisation a few days before of fadingness, I got a deep draught of deathness, and a sudden flooding tide of visions I cannot in any way describe to you except using nonsensical mashups like 'white textured depth' because the visions were as much felt and sensed with every part of me as they were seen. Importantly however, they were seen. A question arose against this marvellous and entirely unscary background then - what if I get afraid? I was suddenly afraid of being afraid and doing all sorts of panicky things. Afraid of chickening out, as if I had some sort of choice ultimately anyway. Afraid that when the next watershed line to cross came up for me, the next step in letting go, that I'd prove driven by fear more than love. And I could see and viscerally feel how the fear pollutes my being.
It felt utterly fucking devastating, and I'm not sure I've ever been that scared. And yeah, I have had some scary shit happen in life too. This feeling and the energy patterns around it nearly swamped me. Robyn knows me very well and we have a trust that says to her "do what you feel I need without fear" and she facilitated my going into it all very deeply. Got me stable and grounded enough to get to the car before going home, topping up quickly on some food (I'd barely fed anything all day) and essentially surrendering. Passing out, in a way.
Love conquers all. Meeta was just there for me, and I felt that 1% feeling. It's the same 1% of your being that (for most of us who have survived and even thrived from the experience) kicks in when you take something like LSD that remembers to tell you that you can't really fly. But in this case, it was that you cannot be drowned in fear when there is love. So it was safe to go into it, and I let go a second time into the maelstrom. I let myself be that weak and terrified and beaten. Judged, found wanting, without courage or spine, a creature of base reflex only, clinging like an amoeba at whatever environment sustains it even one second longer in life. Devastated at the thought that I might after all be completely devoid of spirit, a shell, an utter mortal with nothing beyond my animal senses and hard-wired physical drives and fears. Not connected. Just a gaping wound in the skein of my own consciousness, raging with sensation at the dying of the light.
And all that.
And it was, you know, OK in the end.
So that patch passed, but not without passing on its baton of learning. What I have now to adorn the fading sideways light is a little monument to all the fear I have learned in my life and what it at heart rests on; the simple cellular panic of not finding breath. I have a new respect for that terror, but know something about it now. That love actually does overcome. Even if that is a conceit of the desperate ego, a lurching fistful of balm against the horror of Not Being Here, it is true. It is true for I have experienced it as such once, and thus, might again. So the fear has been more deeply felt, and it is still there, but that's, well, OK. I know it for what it is now. OK. And one thing I do not doubt, is that love is here.
So that's how I've been. And you?
Sunday, April 8, 2012
There's been something I've not been saying explicitly the last week or so, for several reasons, but it's time now to properly, clearly, out it.
I thought that writing this next line would be easy, but instead I find myself explaining to you how it isn't. And I thought my usual blunt approach, the raw and obtuse foil to my more baroque and wordy stylings with which you are all surely familiar by now would carry the day, yet I hesitate. Fear? Naturally. But of what, precisely, I must first resolve. I see now I have already prevaricated in the very title of this blog post. Ah yes, that's probably all it is, vanity again - just not wanting to be seen as an overly dramatic or self-indulgent attention seeker - a wanker. Pfft. Too late for that now, eh? So here it is, the line that should have been birthed a paragraph ago:
I'm actively dying now.
Active, as in making very conscious choices that will hasten my ending, and now, as in ... well, as in now.
Here is a short story, as a way of trying to explain how this has come to pass, and what it all means.
Consider now an old Inuit woman, nearly toothless and almost blind, sometime not that long ago, living much as her ancestors had done for generations in the frozen North. She has lived a long and love-filled life, with all its ups and downs, and the signs of it all show clearly on her beautiful face. Various extended family members these days take turns chewing her food and placing it gently in her mouth that she may swallow, and helping her with the minutiae of everyday life in the communal igloo. Being an elder member of the clan, she is perhaps even more greatly loved and respected by all, and it never needs saying that as long as she wishes to live that everyone will make every effort to ensure she's as comfortable, happy, and involved in life as possible. She can no longer do so many things now - cut up the seals or fish brought in, stitch the sealskin clothing, or even help much with the very young children, as would normally be her due. Life is hard in marginal lands, and she knows full well she is a burden on the limited resources available, in a scheme to which she has less and less ability to contribute. Not that anyone minds in the least, they simply acknowledge the burdens involved as part of their life's sometime inevitables, and she knows this also. Her world, perhaps like yours or anyone's, is made up as much of others as it is by her internal goings-on, and the older and wiser she has gotten the stronger and deeper the bonds and empathies with her family and communities have grown. She knows they are concerned about her, that they are that bit more vigilant to her strange night noises, attendant to any minor changes, always wanting her to be as well as she can on her way closer now, closer now, to dying. She knows how much she is loved, and knows how much her love is valued by others too. She knows they feel her pains, and already in their own ways are grieving her impending death.
In the igloo, sitting around the small stove, it can happen that many hours pass wordlessly in a comfortable companionship, with people doing little jobs, or playing small games, or dozing, and in one such lengthy silence our old lady rouses herself slightly with a little shake of the shoulders; just enough so that she knows she is in everyone's attention for the moment, and simply, softly says "It's time for me to go outside now." There is no doubt as to the meaning here, and there is no great commotion either. One by one, tearfully, the family members come around and press in close, and whisper things of fond memories shared, of scraps of life and love, offering blessings and gratitude, sensitive even now not to tire her out too much. For they know and fully accept that her existence has changed in just these past few moments. Our old woman has crossed a line inside: Her experience of All - her own self in body, mind and spirit - and those things that complete her; the way the world is reflected back to her, the way her life ripples out through others and her experience of their hearts and souls too, has passed a divide. There is no inside/outside differentiation, you see – the feelings and needs of her kin and her spirit surrounds are just as real and valuable to her as her own, and in the quantum of her experience of life, the mode of carrying on is now no longer right.
It is neither a selfish nor a selfless act. It is not a sacrifice to the greater good of her family, but it is partly that. It is not a wish to avoid further suffering, but it is partly that. It is not just the result of long and clear thought and meditation – though yes, it is partly that – but importantly it is just as much the result of an Intuition. A message, a voice, something Divine, it is pointless trying to name it – just the sure knowledge that it is time now.
She will shortly leave the igloo, alone, one last time, to walk a little distance away while she still can – this is important too – to find a good spot to just sit, and wait for the bear that will come and return her being into the great cycles of All.
I crossed just such a line very recently. The details are more personal and close to my protected home-ness place than allows me to feel right about sharing here, but when it came, I can tell you it was very clear.
The line has been there in my future, as a near-certainty of experience for years now. I've seen it there and thought long, thought hard, softly, fleetingly, and every which way about it on this journey, and I always did have a sense that I would know it as a moment, a line that once crossed was going to change me in some way deeply. I can tell you what that line is, for me.
It is a line between a life whose mode is to go on living, enjoying what great things that being alive has to offer, even as I grow and increasingly accept the inevitability and looming closeness of my death, with an eye for quality of life, and some expectation of continuance involved at its core, to a life where quality remains important, but the focus is less on quality of life and more on the qualities of death. A life that invites death in now, actively. I have lived long enough, and the lingering part has become too long, yet it is not quite 100% time to step off the edge; that is another line I shall probably come to shortly. It is time to take steps to hasten the end, and I have begun the process.
I am truly sorry if I am causing hurt by doing this, but something I have come to accept as I connect with those loved ones near and far is that there is pain anyway, with empathy of my condition and direction. This is perhaps just a different, and much shorter, form of pain I offer out to the world, and for which I take responsibility. So I am sorry. But I am also, quite unequivocally, bathed in the light of a far greater freedom than I think I have ever known, having crossed this line, and I suspect this might radiate out to you as well. That would be nice.
This is about that hard-to-communicate concept, the quantum of my experience. It involves things like my relationship with notions of home, and partnership with my wife, relationships with people and animals etc. I cannot see my wife's needs and desires as any more or less important than my own, and I know that she needs setting free too. I need to leave things like 'home' increasingly behind too. And that's OK. I get that there will be people whose personal morals and worldviews will cause them to judge me unkindly or wanting in some variety of moral fibre - so be it. I am sorry for bringing you another confrontation with your judgments, and can only hope that this is somehow right and good for you in the overall scheme of things. I truly have no ill will to any of you who think unkind or hurtful thoughts towards me in this. It's OK. It's sort of almost inevitably human anyway.
You may be wondering about details now, about what it all means in a day-to-day sense and it's only fair to be frank with you. This is my last Easter, certainly. Beyond that I cannot give you a date. But I can tell you my plan, all my own choices of course, but made with the blessings and support of those closest by and dearest to me.
Bluntness again, then: I am invoking the assistance of another plant sacrament to those already helping me so greatly in body, mind and spirit, to help me on the way – the dark sacrament of Papaver somniferum, the opium poppy. Not the poppy or raw opium itself; rather its pharmaceutical and legal derivatives. You see, I have been living in constant pain of one or another sort, and using a pseudo-opioid that is quite the odd drug, in that it actually also 'blockades' all other opiates from doing much of their job, including their cognitive and mood effects, which is why it is often used to treat addiction. But it never really fully worked for the pain, and besides it is time to embrace the sacrament properly – I want the full effects now; even the bad ones. It is time to give up the constancy of pain; a now-outdated sacrament in itself, but one I thank for its lessons, perhaps fittingly at Easter time. Opiates (except for my old weird pseudo-one) are notorious for slowing digestive actions. Their use was directly contributory to my last hospitalisation emergency those many months ago now. I was trying to live on, trying not to lose weight, to enjoy life, to be normal but ... no. I am reminded of Zen master Yoda's sage wisdom from The Empire Strikes Back; "Do or do not - there is no try." I did learn a great, great deal from that time (the time of opiates, but from Yoda also), and much about the nature of myself and death. I understand the sacrament now, and its appropriateness and spirit.
I'm not meaning to euphemise drug-seeking, I truly do mean it when I speak of sacrament in that my worldview has it as axiomatic that nature (and by extension, through our agency, even science) provides us all around with the things we need for our journeys in life, and a key part of our spirituality on this earth has been through the use of powerful plants. They work with us in more ways than brute chemistry, of this I am entirely sure. What I want is for my gut's inarguably impending shutdown to happen faster now, and what I want is also to have support and assistance in spending more and deeper times facing the blank at the end, meditating on Nothingness, on absence, on death, and this is precisely what the energies of the opiate world turn towards. It's a shame this aspect is so overlooked in our dealing with this most potent gift, and the problems that result for so so many people. But then, we abuse so much that is sacred in nature, do we not?
And I'll be spending increasing amounts of time at hospice, away from home. This helps my experiential desires well; to have some peace and to be less burdensome on Meeta, in a way it actually makes us closer. Eventually there will come a time when I do not go home again, I think. It is most likely I shall die here, in respite. This very room, even; 8C. Next to Max, who has attained today his 'last goal' – his 74th birthday. Happy birthday Max.
OK, so, this is my plan, as much as there is one. I have switched drugs, and already things are slowing. I can see that for the moment about three feeds a day is all that is comfortable, and that's fine. I will of course lose weight as this carries on and diminishes. There will be pain regardless, discomfort, unpleasantness of sorts, to varying degrees along the way, I accept this. More pain than I am OK with I shall ask the sacraments to help with, and thus the cycle intensifies. My several symptoms will change and worsen, and new ones will doubtless emerge. I am already having a little trouble with some new things. You can see how this will go. At some point, accident or incident notwithstanding, I will most likely cross another line; the one where it is time to disengage from nourishment altogether, and possibly fluid too if that feels right, and from then we know my life will be measured only in weeks or days, not months.
For those who may wish to see me hold on tighter, or adopt a fighting pose and kick on, I am sorry for that pain of yours. That is not my way now. I accept you may see the world entirely differently; all I want to do here is show you what mine looks like, that you might have a chance at understanding. Of course there are options for living longer. They are just not right for me, of this I have utterly no doubt.
I do not know how much or how deeply I will keep up my conversations out here in the public light, I know my non-Facebooking wife is most fond of ribbing me that it will be “probably right up until the day you die” and for all I know she's right. Maybe not. I truly do not know how this will go. But I do know I will be spending more and more time 'in'. Please do not think that me sharing less means I love you all less, or that my incremental disconnection – my detachment – betrays some lack of good will or gratitude for you. Yes, you, personally. I hope you know I wish to speak to your heart.
I am grateful beyond measure for this life and all that I have experienced, and so very much of that, more than you can probably imagine, is changed and made better, deeper, fuller, more right, by your having been in it. By your being in it now. I will understand if you have to leave me early, turn away and not watch. That is fine; there are no 'shoulds' left. If you wish to reach out to me, I will respond as best, as graciously, as fully as I am able. Please do what is right for you in terms of this thing, whatever that is. For that is what I am doing, even though I know it may precipitate pains for all of us.
Thank you for witnessing this far.
So now you know.
Here I go.
If anyone wishes to assist in some way with the practicalities of my situation, the very best way is a contribution to my fund for a natural burial. It is my preference if possible to go back to nature bodily somehow - we have no polar bears here to perform this grace and sky burial is alas illegal here. Thank you.