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Life's waters - Books and blog by Peter M. Hunt - Page 3

And loving it…

For the last year or two, pacifying insecurity from attachment has become a futile nocturnal chore of necessity. Never able to wholly rid my body of instinct, night after night, even our dogs sense my alerted “fight or flight” state of nervousness, evoking a mirror-image mimic of restless hell.

More than a reaction to a mad world absent moral backbone, chronic anxiety and depression structure the disease’s sole promise:

“You will be ground down, worn out. You cannot win.”

The nights drag into weeks, months, years, and decades. Without rest, sheer will is the only weapon to lay anxiety and depression to temporary quiescence. The rules, hopelessly skewed, demand anxiety and depression be met head-on in unadorned rawness, allowing them to run their course. Somehow, you struggle on.

Coming to terms with moderating my attachment to those I love is anything but straightforward. Fear of a loss of perceived (did it ever really exist?) control is a game properly played in the trembling nuance of twilight’s shadows.

My only shockingly meager piece of advice after 17 years of round-the-clock Parkinson’s fallout? Keep at it, keep trying, again and again. And again. Don’t quit, ever.

Somehow, inexplicably, despite the sure knowledge of failure in the end, taking the option of surrender off the table helps. I will go down fighting. And smiling.

Thoughts of childhood calm the turmoiled mind. My favorite television childhood TV show was “Get Smart,” a 1960s sitcom that follows hapless Agent 86, Maxwell Smart, who somehow manages episode after episode to cheat death through no skill of his own. Each week, one of the show’s characters inevitably illustrates the agents’ dire circumstance. As Maxwell Smart emerges, against all odds, victorious once again, he turns to the camera and exclaims with a grimly authentic smile, “And loving it!”

Surprisingly, this helps me survive the lonely nights, the pure joy of reacting to life’s impossible follies with hardened audacity. 

“And loving it” – you got that right, I say to myself, smiling fiercely into the darkness, my words settling close to my heart, taunting and taming that which “is,” gradually gaining breath, inflating the empty shell of quiet night with the warm comfort of love.

I am here, still in life, come and get me. I wonder if tonight the demon warriors will visit in reclamation of mortal audacity, knowing that I will not go down without a fight. 

And I am ready. And loving it…

Reflections

I usually prefer to walk or hike alone to have an undistracted opportunity to think until thought is no longer helpful. These periods of meditative-silenced cognition bring my most peaceful moments, absent the standard lunatic ravings that bounce around my brain with no other purpose than to let me know that the ego is still firmly in charge.

Occasionally, I wonder if any thoughts are genuinely my own or whether they are reflections of those close to me, separated only by artificial habits that consolidate our individuality. Even people with whom I disagree, some vehemently, seem to mirror a part of me lying in wait at the periphery of consciousness.

I’ve begun to consider people’s opinions first in light of how they might mirror one of my character attributes, either past or present. It helps me better understand those around me and accept their beliefs as valid with a little less internal resistance.

We look to the mirror’s impression of the external self as clues of the inner person magnetically draw eyes to eyes. Staring into Nietzsche’s abyss caters to longings nestled deep in the soul of nature’s most curious creature.

What fall from grace precipitated the divisions that plague us, separating humankind from implicit piety, consecrating nature with the threat of horrific destruction, inuring us to the permanence of impurity? Believe that we can do better. Believe in the good that surrounds.

Tribe

Most of us spend our lives in a small circle of friends and family, echoing back familiar reactions to what we perceive to be objective reality. But the cruelty of a chaotic world occurs so quickly that even a formally cohesive tribe can be split into irreconcilable interpretations of sanity.

In today’s world, the pendulum of truth swings viciously through every conceivable color of veracity’s tableau. Perceptions of fundamental reality vary everywhere, corrupting effective communication and eliminating any possibility of compromise. One of the first casualties of cultural ruin is a sudden collapse of shared values, which, in turn, commands an alarming intolerance and reliance on violence.

Ordinarily, if circumspect in method and curious in intention, delving into our darkest nature can be healthy; exploring life’s shadow side can be integral to the self-discovery process. But to dwell exclusively in life’s gloomy silhouette is begging for tragedy, capitalizing on monsters of destruction born of greed and dread.

The world appears to be on the verge of great schism, nurtured by vulgar and hackneyed doctrine and egged on by arrogant pride; our basest traits grow emboldened by the harsh veneer of malicious reaction and violence.

It is not too late to travel to the self that exists deep within each of us, as envisaged across millennia, to rally the genuine nature of man. Humankind survives as one or perishes as many; either lives through love or dies in hate. It is up to us in our daily lives to decide; how we treat others directly impacts the wider world, be it with love or hate.

Honoring mutual decency, dare the collective soul to join the contented refinement of accord. Spur the heart’s courageous emanation toward grace. Choose love.

Attachment

We leave this place of interactive existence more naked than upon our arrival—when born, we are graced with the body’s solid mystery, while our departure heralds not just the relinquishing of all material possessions but potentially all of material reality. Even our body forsakes us as we embark on the great mystery.

In November of a year ago, my son and I embarked on our last shared underwater adventure, after 44 years, my final scuba dive. I knew before suiting up that this would be it for me. It was a balanced decision, one that allowed for reversal if a dramatic change in circumstance occurred, such as a significant improvement in my Parkinson’s or if I ended up in a warm, relaxed climate, a far more forgiving dive environment.

A year later, I decided to give up boating as well, only to reverse course a few short months later, realizing that it was not consciously or intuitively wise to purge one of my few remaining hobbies simply because of hazard. I knew without a doubt that keeping the boat meant frequently operating it solo and sometimes in questionable circumstances.

Danger, however, is a two-sided coin. The ready challenge with the boat ten minutes from home and then only five minutes to Deception Pass’s whirlpools and vicious currents tests me, allowing me to operate at a normal person’s margins despite Parkinson’s. Daring with dire repercussions for miscalculation, I enjoy playing under the bridge.

Reflecting on these two life examples of letting go, what strikes me is that both are inconsequentially trivial in long-term physical, psychological, or spiritual effect when compared to life’s most heart-wrenchingly inevitable liberations from connection: breaking the attachments to my children, my wife, my family, and my friends.

These are life’s true treasures. Flushed in the bonded correlation of being, clinging in alternating passions of desperation and joy, here lies meaning, open to the alchemic ken of the genuine, the moments we spend with those we love.

Stuck

Spending more time stuck physically and psychologically with each passing day is a defining attribute of Parkinson’s disease. The disease physically incapacitates, freezing the afflicted in place, unable to move or speak, making it feel impossible to breathe.

Parkinson’s has not impacted me yet to this point of complete immobility, but I get close enough to sense it coming. The psyche compliments the physical freeze with what feels like a heavy, wet blanket of temporary but debilitating apathy. And then, miraculously within minutes, the paralysis vanishes as the medication’s artificial dopamine takes effect. It is a liberating sensation that requires more and more pills over time as the drug loses effectiveness.

Eventually, the artificial dopamine stops working. It can sometimes seem too much to handle, but with nature’s innate mercy, a person grows accustomed to the frequent life disruptions. If allowed, humans have an extraordinary way of assimilating discomfort as it transmutes into resilience.

Ironically, my project of self-discovery is also prone to extended periods of being stuck: these pauses, a spiritual nadir, trigger new trials, notably insomnia incited panic. Living life authentically by grappling with pain and terror devoid of filter gradually frees me, finally permitting me to continue down the path I have chosen. Never pleasant, always difficult, it is still life’s most gratifying contest.

For friends and family who are suffering their own life’s tragic rendition, here is a gentle reminder of life’s sole promise: we will all die. Make the gift of your time on this earth meaningful.

Learn from your struggle, exercising creation’s alchemy to flourish in your challenge. Shake off the individuality of your labor by treating every fellow human being and all living things with grace’s dignities of love and respect. Live courageously as is known in your heart to be in service of your soul.

Heartless distraction

On a recent morning walk, I wandered past a yard sign decorated in the liberating style of a child inscribed with the challenge to “Live Happy.” For decades, my automatic reply to the innocence of this unearned optimism would have included a crude reference that also appeared to be self-evident.

My goal with the childish statement was to focus attention, to force the listener through an exercise in reducing to the absurd to reflect deeper on an essential topic while still spicing up the conversation with a smidgen of humor.

Today’s worship of the material is an external diversion devoid of lasting value. As we frantically look to outside sources for happiness—money, power, and fame, to name a few—we ignore the elegant subtlety behind our eyes, what the inner child still holds lucidly beyond second nature.

Perpetual happiness may be impossible, but our larger paradigm—our default view of life—can accept happiness when nature and circumstance allow. It continues to surprise me how often this is so.

A child laughs absent judgment, overflowing with playful joy. Facing life’s trials with smiling good humor, the child replaces human suffering with the healing hand of love, conceding all that is to be.

Lasting happiness is a choice, an attitude, one of the few things in life within our control that flows naturally in recognition of unity’s grace. A child’s warm application of common wisdom derives from an honest assessment of the obvious, disregarding senseless productivity by seeing it for what it is, a heartless distraction of the soul.

Skirting finality

Recently, while hiking, I spied a stout seal languishing in a narrow stretch of water separating a small island from the trail where I stood. The seal lolled about leisurely in the shallows, gently rolling, pirouetting without concern for its audience. What was the seal doing, I wondered? What was its purpose?

Could the seal be pregnant and looking for a safe place to give birth? Was the seal dying? It wasn’t the right season for birthing, but you never knew, and dying, of course, publishes no schedule. Both prospects disturbed me, and I landed on a more pleasant alternative; maybe, in its own way, the seal appreciated the moment, fully engaged in the mystery-miracle of animation, as it simply watched nature’s creation unfold.

I shrugged, left the seal, and resumed my walk, bypassing the well-groomed path back to the parking lot. Instead, I opted for a narrow trail along the cliff face that I knew would test me. Fifteen minutes and one wrong turn after seeing the seal, I found myself stranded at the water’s edge with only one way out, back up the steep embankment. I suppose I had gotten what I asked for.

I started back up. Scrambling for fingerholds among the barely anchored tree roots, progress was slow, with each step forward slinging clods of loosened mud into the air as I fought to maintain balance. I tried not to look down at the jagged rocks below.

My lungs heaved in exertion. I paused to rest and took a deep breath, visualizing how I must look: a guy in the shadow of 60, limbs flailing, with a dopey grin as unstable as the traverse he was attempting. I started laughing.

It was a memorable hike, first trying to guess why the seal was acting strangely in the shallows, followed by a legitimate challenge during the return to my car.

Choosing a more difficult path guarantees nothing but discomfort and a new experience (and maybe a few moss-stained bruises). But it might just also hold that desperately sought nugget of treasure that earns us the resilience to walk the fine line between living and dying, to feel engaged and “in life,” while skirting the apparent finality of death.

Hubris of meaning

While walking along the beach, I noticed a large stump that appeared to have been yanked from the ground before drifting for a lengthy indeterminate period as judged by the smooth veneer of its chain-sawed limbs.

The stump’s roots had circled in flowing adaptation around four large rocks, entangling them firmly in smooth wooden cavities, snuggly ornate in artistic simplicity.

I had never seen this before, such an obvious encirclement of a tree over stones. What could it mean?

I considered either the predicament or good fortune of the embedded rocks, depending on perspective, occasionally for several days, eventually concluding nothing. Still, the unusual arrangement was mesmerizing in its transformative beauty, an inlay of ordinary rock in the center of a nondescript tree that, when viewed in entirety, was fascinating beyond that of an oddity of occurrence.

Recently, I’ve questioned my naiveté silently. Evolving habit demands investigating meaning in every act of observation, a course I still regard as proper if I am ever to understand the actual workings of the world. But it does not follow that a particular interpretation will be revealed “correctly” (whatever that is) or will be evident to me or to anybody else.

Assuming meaning is adaptable to the inherent rigidities of the human form and thought, it would seem likely to be undetected by all, including the most perceptive of observers. Meaning appears to arise nuanced in expression, oblique in its attack of a salient point, absent the usual fanfare modern doctrine demands in description.

It might be wise to temper our focus, entertaining kindness and compassion as a guide for the hidden. Beauty can be grounded in brilliant obscuration, a gateway to understanding a buried code long forgotten in a hubris-driven oversight of consequence.

Purgatory’s jewel

We are lured to the water in tacit tribute to an unseeable unity, both in periods of inspired stillness and foreboding ferocity, with terrible waves woven together in frightful patterns undetected by sense or sentience. One afternoon, my wife and I witnessed the ocean’s furtive magic while moored at a local marine park dock.

While preparing lunch, we watched a woman refocusing from the cruelty of a callused age, melancholy’s celebratory dance weighing heavy on her back, striking near submission into purgatory’s jewel.

With sorrow as her sole companion, we looked on at her nearly beaten aura, bearing the impossible weight of a thousand restless souls, forced her head down in submission as she slouched with death’s lovely sweetness toward the end of the pier.

Despite the posture of acrimonious acquiescence, her walk curiously carried the grace of a solitary unlit candle, furnishing energetic comportment while radiating impassioned vibrancy. She held the line in her distance from demise, a slender cord barely able to abide the weight.

With a rawness reserved for saying goodbye to one lost to the grand mystery, she revealed a small plastic bag, pressing it firmly into her chest over her heart. Hobbled by life’s soporific soliloquy of inconsolable grief, the bag’s contents unceremoniously fell into the sea. 

My wife and I felt the shadowy groundswell of her pain wash over us as the cremated remains dispersed in the moving ocean.

I stood frozen, paralyzed in emotion, and unable to act. My wife, far wiser in the moment, stepped off the boat onto the dock and offered the woman a hug rich in fluid authenticity. The woman wordlessly accepted. The two held each other as a single point of light form, sharing love’s concealing power.

After several minutes, the woman turned away to kneel while staring at the floating ashes. Finally, she got up from her knees, and silently walked away, never having uttered a single word to us. We never saw her again.

Society downplays feelings, and instead places value on monetizing life’s transactions with temporal drama. Yet science cannot unequivocally assign causation to life’s most powerful attribute, emotion.

Love, empathy, and gratitude continue to astonish us, mysterious and unexplained, as wildly unpredictable as the open ocean, holding meaning firmly at the edge of human understanding, in the realm of the sacred language of the soul.