Tyrannical anxiety

Over Christmas, my wife and I visited family in San Francisco, staying at the same beachfront hotel we had on a previous trip south eight years prior. The season, age, and my Parkinson’s progression separated the two hotel stays, factors I did my best to consider in an attempt to manage expectations, not looking to relive the past but instead to enjoy the location’s beauty on each stay’s merits.

Honest reflection requires me to say that I failed miserably. I would have preferred over the holidays the stability of reuniting memories. Instead, what I got was an emotional rush, coupled with a twinge of anxiety, from the ethereally familiar but somehow fundamentally different surroundings. Each daily walk exposed new or even contradictory revelations that admitted at least a degree of unexperienced novelty, ordinarily a good thing in my book, but not so in this instance.

Most have probably participated in the experience of visiting the same place multiple times, only to discover entirely distinctive versions of the same physical site as judged primarily through the emotional associations of those feelings. Consider how you viewed the same playground as a child with how you feel about it now.

Parkinson’s brain fog feels the same way to me: the people and places are all familiar yet distinctively different in a way impossible to identify, as if there is a laced veil draped over my head, obscuring a clear view of this world. Labels, notably people’s names, vanish from consciousness while it is easy to remember faces and shared past experiences. It can be a displacing sensation of terrifying proportions, ungrounded in an unpowered free float wherever an unseen force propels me.

Is it an invitation to glimpse another perspective of reality, as if I accurately understood the current one most familiar to me? That elicits a silent chuckle that immediately eases the brain fog’s tyrannical anxiety. It is disorienting having one foot of perspective in this world and one foot in another, begging the question, is perspective reality?

Final Odyssey

It’s been over ten years since last venturing out during New Year’s Eve, what I used to consider amateur night. That’s what a lifetime of hard drinking will do to you—soften criticism of those who managed to interject a modicum of moderation into their lifestyle.

Not one to shirk responsibility, it is clear to me that this personality fault caused some of my life’s most difficult times. Still, it took a lot more than humiliation to humble me into moderation, and it wasn’t until many years after Parkinson’s diagnosis that I finally reined in my intemperate imbibing.

Whether decades of heavy drinking partly triggered my Parkinson’s has been the subject of occasional internal debate, but not a lot. I’m reasonably sure that the underlying cause of my Parkinson’s is past trauma, both general in nature as well as one specific reason, but I will leave that for another writing.

Hope and regret pointlessly ruminate in symmetric reflection, while neither affects the present moment in a meaningful fashion. The past does not hold significant sway over me, leaving little room for regret along with an equal scarcity of attention to the role hope plays. Instead, longing and regret can offer only self-gratifying urgency or the futility of maudlin melancholy to an already confusing situation.

It can be trying to watch the sun go down on New Year’s Eve, knowing that most will find themselves at the start of the new year surrounded by people as they take in all this world of form has to offer. I must remind myself that this, too, abstaining from believing too fully in life’s master illusion, plays a significant role in what I am attempting to accomplish during my final Odyssey.

What I must eventually face during this adventure is unclear, although it will undoubtedly present more moments of extreme discomfort and pain. But for me, now, it is the only exploration worth engaging. There is no other way to experience the point of life, which is, in the end, to understand—albeit on a rudimentary and incomplete level, probably—the meaning of life. Alcohol used to maintain a deadening hold on my soul; my present quest entices that most integral part of my being forward into the light.

As Socrates said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Thank you all for joining me on my final escapade. If considered seriously and soberly, I trust that it will light the spark of a personal journey of your own.

In the best sense of the word, I hope this is so. Happy New Year.

Clever grace

When I was nine, the family hit the road after work one Friday, searching for a place to park our VW to enjoy the outdoors. Almost all coastal Greece is beautiful, making finding a campsite in 1971 easy.

After helping my father raise the tent, I walked along the craggy shore until finding a perch to sit quietly for the sunset. Gazing into the Aegean with unfocused attention, I stared at the rugged rock wall that descended into eventual darkness.

There was something about one outcropping in particular that held my attention. Five minutes of visual fixation found reward when the rock began to move.

Stunned and unable to register what was happening, I watched the rock deliberately unfold with the clever grace of intelligence, gradually differentiating rough tentacles thorny and colorful in texture until the label “octopus” registered in my mind.

The creature, tired of disguise, ambled with fluid acumen into the depths, tentacles miraculously transmuting into willowy feet. I kept sight of the shifting shape as it blended to nothingness in the lower visibility of depth.

The octopus survives by varying its form in both shape and color. I doubt many people could handle this fast a personal metamorphosis in themselves.

Change, impermanence, is inevitable and is neither good nor bad; it is how we react to a transforming world that affects us by creating judgment’s dualistic framework. Editing a written work is a small example of a commonly understood positive in change, at least when it applies to my writing. Reactions to Parkinson’s disease generally reflect an interpretation of bad.

PD has taught me many things, some still not understood cognitively, but one conclusion approaching certainty is to accept change as it happens. I consider PD a “good” thing when life’s confusion of meaning demands labeling.

Is this the remedy, the cure to illusory ailment, wrapped and hidden carefully in the comfort of unity, the soothing salve of vibrant energy, to surrender?

Loverly

Part of my recent routine is tackling select morning chores as the day’s first medications wear off and the second batch of drugs ramps up to take over, a sixty-or-so-minute process that begins about 8:15 am. The challenge is to maximize the golden hours of medication equilibrium, freeing me to write, exercise, and drive for limited times, mainly in the mornings.

While making the bed—a painfully slow evolution, but one I can usually accomplish regardless of physical state—I started humming a song learned in 3rd grade while living in Athens, Greece, that highlighted the refrain “Wouldn’t it be loverly.”

I strived to sing passably with pitiful success as a boy, and elementary school witnessed my last moments of sufficient bravery or stupidity to belt out a few choruses publicly. All the same, silent memories of these moments of liberating creativity reside comfortably in my heart. These days, I engage creativity through the safer medium of writing.

Creativity frees the child’s heart to play regardless of age. Tapping into the imagination transports the individual away from the world of the senses, freeing the soul to wander in ethereal exploration.

Whether simply curious or actively attempting to brighten perspective of an intolerable situation, creativity and imagination help to engage perhaps a more genuine reality. Activating one’s creative juices, regardless of the form they take, is critical to living a whole life.

As Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” That’s the thing about being way-smart; I bet he could sing too. Wouldn’t that be loverly?

Humility’s gentle grace

My life—until recent years—mimics a pendulum’s widening arc of extremity, hinting only the slightest hesitation as the center oscillates past quiet with confounding predictability.

Recognizing prior patterns of hollow value does not magically charm foibles into fables, and perception alone only summons the rigid reward of hardened belief. Authentic humility’s hushed wisdom is what opens the door.

Tutoring conviction elicits the mind-as-tool prison, lending it unbalanced weight while ignoring the heart’s treasure of softening judgment. Humility’s charity balances both, vanquishing neither.

The metaphor is incomplete, as are all portraits of the soul, an entity aching to be seen, patiently awaiting the pendulum to swing toward humility’s gentle grace.

Coexisting realities

The deep brain stimulator surgically implanted in 2014 has served me well, but its effectiveness wanes each day. A persistent brain fog hounds me, often leaving imagination as my only reliable companion in adventures of memory.

Today, I traveled back four years to share the water—from the safety of an underwater cage—with Great White sharks. Rounding off each day of diving, an informal tutorial on the behavior of this apex predator would be held in the vessel’s common area.

When two Great Whites meet while hunting, the pair will swim alongside each other to determine which shark is longer, with the “winning” fish continuing to predate in the disputed waters. The smaller shark moves to other hunting grounds, bowing peacefully out of the contest.

But occasionally, the two fish skirmish for reasons unknown to me, leaving many Great Whites scarred from the violent encounters. These physical anomalies serve as the primary basis for identifying the approximately 400 Great Whites living seasonally in the waters off Guadalupe Island, Mexico.

While peaceful collaboration appears to be their initial conflict resolution strategy, bite scars lasting the animal’s lifetime leave the impression that violence is the sharks’ reaction of choice. It can seem that there are two valid, coexisting realities, and perhaps there are.

Allowing nature’s clarity to relax the mind enlivens the spirit. Breathe deeply while strolling in winding woods or swimming circles on a quiet ocean. Animate the soul with the possibility of eternal truth, intertwined in the mutuality of authentic witness, permitting the unseen to appear.

Returning to port

My hobbies and ten years in the navy reflect my attraction to the sea, an evolving self-discovery of conflicting visions.

Watching the sea’s delicate orchestra of peaceful violence fascinates and thrills, luring, tempting to risk venturing a stroke too far. Sensually appealing, the ocean seduces its prey with vast expanses of barren surface while creatures dare depth’s darkness in a flirt of imagination.

Accustomed to the push-pull delights of mimicking tide, the ocean’s stinging salt air fashions crashing waves of human indifference, pledging nothing more than a rough ride home. And we must all eventually go home.

Fortunate for many reasons, I was blessed to have grown up on the East Coast while living most of my life in the West. Imagining the sun’s arc as it tracks with life’s natural progression lends ordained splendor to the sequence: my life began with the sun erupting from the water. So, it will end setting over western seas, left and right brains finally harmonized in balance.

Appreciating that alignment will come, at least with death, eases nothing. On the contrary, it assures constant struggle until that first sip of hemlock from the trophy cup, perhaps finally content with the journey’s progress. Not that it matters, but I would have it no other way.

Courageous kindness

While The Lost Intruder was certainly about deep diving, Naval Aviation, and underwater exploration, these perspectives merely provided the framework for the book’s genuine aspiration: describing the re-discovery of my soul. Despite countless hours of reflection, however, the mechanisms at play behind the scenes during the 18-month search remain, for the most part, a comforting mystery to me. 

Intuitively, I knew to avoid gleaning from the experience inevitably incomplete, although important, interpretations of meaning—The Lost Intruder was only one segment of a very long journey. Instead, I relied on the calming conclusion that, without knowing exactly why, I could trust in the process of life.

Despite a frequently circuitous path forward since then, I still honestly believe that regardless of individual struggles, life really will turn out okay. Just writing that makes me smile. What, do you want to live forever?

While it’s taken years and may take many more to fully comprehend the ultimate value of The Lost Intruder’s chapter of my life, thorny insinuations of higher purpose have mostly been put to rest by a realization of practical magnitude. There is no higher meaning than to love without judgment or reservation in recognition of collective beauty, life’s sincerest identity. It’s that simple.

A gentle humility lies within us all, ready to be put into everyday service by an individual’s courageous kindness. Maybe deep down, that will make you smile; I hope so.

Strength happens

Flying home after a visit with my son in South Carolina last week, I pondered how life had changed in just the past year. In addition to a longtime grounding from flying, there was now no more diving, severely limited driving, no more talks or presentations, and even negotiating the doldrums of air travel solo had become problematic. Parkinson’s previously gradual backsliding has noticeably accelerated, leading me to question the viability of an unvital life.

My primary reason for continuing to endure life’s now often tediously boring bell jar is my children. As long as they remain solidly in my identity, then, perhaps, I might fashion a degree of guidance for them. Besides, even though I will never witness how things turn out—no one ever does, as the “end” tends to usher in the “new” just as quickly—my curiosity remains strong. I do enjoy watching the impermanence of life’s stage.

Two sayings come to mind. I’ve always appreciated Frederick Nietzsche’s writing but had considered one of his most famous pieces trite. “That which doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” reverberates with careless meaning, a strength-for-strength’s sake, might-makes-right dead-end deal.

“Shit happens” (author unknown) was more my style with its shared blessing of tacit acceptance.

The mind’s realization that “life is as life is” offers little comfort to depleting animation. To recognize the same from the heart, however, is to surrender to agape’s warm embrace, to welcome the falling tears of gentle reserve. Departing the bastion of reason for environs of infinite universality, the distance between the two perspectives, it seems, is only to be bridged—at least by me—through patient persistence, and then only temporarily.

My goal? Fortitude through patience and unflappable calm in the face of shit happening: what could go wrong? Surely nothing that the occasional smile can’t remedy…😊

The alchemy of kindness

Recently, an event has tested my faith in compassion, empathy, and kindness as tools of reconciliation and healing. I will not go into details other than to say that it is perhaps the greatest challenge of my life, with impossibly high stakes.

Like most people, my initial reaction during particularly trying times runs to the “reaction” emotions of anger, fear, and despair as I struggle to control the hamster wheel looping of negative narrative possibilities that try to run 24/7 in my brain.

It is difficult beyond description to maintain detached responsiveness when 59-years of society’s encouraged inculturation of reaction acts as a well-intentioned centurion, guarding the higher functions of my mind in nature’s misguided physicality of instinct.

But being a higher primate comes with advantages as well as challenges, with the ability to reference experience perhaps our most valuable tools. I know that now more than ever is the perfect time for kindness.

Counter to what my “fight or flight” physical body tells me, deep in my soul, I know that the only available extrication from the spiraling horrors of impotent agony is to act counter to conventional wisdom, to operate opposite to what society urges as a “normal” response. The hell with normal.

So, I go downstairs to my weapon of compassion, my writing, fully aware that I am but one among billions struggling to survive life’s trials of omission. Being kind in the face of mortal attack offers the highest alchemical reaction, that of human empathy.

Today, with renewed emphasis of will, I will seek to help those encountering life’s brutal countenance of reason, soul quickened to the task of providing comfort to the faceless troubled reaction to existential pain.