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Uncategorized - Books and blog by Peter M. Hunt

Life’s eternal bargain

My first indication of a visiting vessel was the coffee-grinder-like sound of a bow thruster. My passengers—a former Recon Marine father and his 37-year-old son—helped  the newcomers tie up, and before long, the steady beat of conversation drifted through my boat’s open window. I joined my friends outside. Our neighbors, a mother, father, and 28-year-old daughter, carried an effortless air of kindness as the conversation deepened.

We explained to our three guests, none of whom were veterans, that we were out on the water to help the son make peace with himself and the haunting memories of years earlier as a combat Marine in Iraq. I had offered to listen, assuming long resolved my 1991 war experiences flying the Navy A6 Intruder. Recently nominated for a Purple Heart, this well-deserved decoration had stirred up my friend’s long-dormant trauma. I cautioned my friend to prepare himself—having a bone-chillingly honest discussion of his wartime experiences would almost certainly involve a few tears. I had no idea how many of those tears would be mine.

Ten minutes later, we were all—new neighbors included—reduced to tearful hugs. In a discordant affectation of reality, I realized that the son’s trauma reflected my own as he attempted to reconcile haunting memories and circumstance-forced participation in the horrors. My combat experiences wore on me for precisely the opposite reason: I acknowledged responsibility for killing dozens, perhaps hundreds, of people, but this would forever be a number shrouded in mystery and left to my imagination to ponder in the lonely night stillness.

And in the middle of this emotional mess was this caring family, strangers, offering an example of warm humanity as they attempted to lighten the burden of our pain. The moment provided a snapshot of how life could and should be, of the unconditional love that we all would do well to emulate

Even while reliving life’s most disturbing memories, there lies goodness, guardian angels arriving from beyond to offer solace to life—and death’s—eternal bargain.

A misplaced power

May 11, 2023

Leaving the grocery store today, I saw a homeless man standing on the corner, holding a cardboard sign stating he was a Vietnam veteran. Pulling up to the stop sign, several well-established narratives, conditioned in my mind after years of exposure, passed through my consciousness, allowing me to recognize them for what they were. The man passed the first authenticity test: he looked about the right age.

The most established societally sanctioned mental story led off in my brain: “How do I know this guy is even a veteran? He’s probably just going to spend any money I give him on alcohol; what if he’s trying to fool me?”

This storyline preys on perhaps our greatest vulnerability, pride, through the fear of a tarnished self-image versus the near certainty of positively influencing the homeless man’s life. Fear of a loss of face in the event of being duped feeds the simplistic, juvenile identity so common in modern society, nourishing it until nothing can be seen beyond the self-imposed prideful mirage as the honest belief that mind and body comprise the totality of our existence takes hold.

A modicum of awareness dispels the ludicrous notion of putting pride on equal footing with a man’s life. Growing frustrated with my indecision in such a simple matter, I turned the car nearly 90 degrees to the prevailing traffic while performing the necessary contortions to reach my wallet. I held a bill out the open passenger window. This man needed money to survive but had none. I had money, more than I needed.

How have we as a society come to act so callously in our judgment—regardless of the veracity of the man’s veteran status—of a person’s life, confused and lost, but still a living, breathing being? Just a thought for your consideration on this beautiful sunny day.

Bluewater

April 27, 2023

The sea has been my life’s central line of consistency, a colorful ally in my stumble through day-to-day existence. From my lifelong hobby, scuba diving, to my first real job as a Navy A-6 Intruder aircraft carrier pilot, to where I choose to live in the present, the ocean’s influence on my life has been nothing short of prodigious.

Growing up in Greece, I basked in the revelation of the unknown, mesmerized by the ocean’s enigmatic obscurity. I spent hundreds of hours spearfishing, seesawing between the excitement of the hunt and the abject terror of that first kick beyond the visible bottom, fresh adolescent eyes waiting for a jaw-snapping creature to hurtle up from the darkness. This confluence of daring and a child’s baseless fear still drives me to that place today, fully engaged in the moment and experiencing life unfiltered.

While military flight training appealed to my adolescent mind, the notion of launching from a ship thousands of miles out to sea—with nowhere else to land—compelled me to join the Navy. Called blue water operations, or “ops,” the lack of choices in an emergency could terrify to incapacity or elicit the inspired audacity to snap to and embrace the worst-case scenario. The sea was my ham-fisted ally, ready to kill in a monstrous hug, a friend who, despite her unforgiving nature, would back me up as long as I gave the day everything I had and, if need be, more.

Only by traveling outside routine can an experience be meaningful. Without risk or suffering, life’s journey will inevitably fall short. Avoiding regret at the end of life requires authenticity, the courageous revocation of everything life offers in a split-second decision to do things the hard way, not for a different outcome but because this is where truth resides, lying naked, exposed at the razor’s edge of control.

Parkinson’s disease is undoubtedly the most positive development in my life. It challenges me with wild ferocity, never letting up, forcing me to respond from beyond my comfort zone daily. Approaching life with the same tenacious determination, not to beat the ailment, but to fight through pain’s distraction, is a harsh but accurate description of true freedom. I don’t know why we suffer, but I am confident that accepting the experience as neither good nor bad, but just as something that is, provides the space to revel in the esoteric freedom of unknowing.

The ocean is raw and unrefined, an intemperate partner to retain for life’s journey. There is no societal stigma or complex cultural etiquette on the seas. One is free to be. Listen to the waves break with your heart and feel your way to clarity. Go for it.

Born a Pisces, Poseidon has always been my god.

Cheers,

Pete

Yoga

Although not started until nearly a decade after Parkinson’s diagnosis, hot yoga has been a mainstay in my fight with the disease for control of mind, body, and soul. Last week saw the tenth anniversary of Chrysalis Hot Yoga, a comfortable place with authentic people that rides high in my heart.

Over the last nine years, I have dedicated to the studio as much as six days a week to as little as a single weekly session, depending on surgeries and my motivation as Parkinson’s progression accelerates every year. If charted, my progress would show an irregular capability pattern of numerous comebacks with one glaring trend: a continuous loss of yoga ability since 2017.

It is funny in a twisted-lens-of-time way, ushering in humble insecurity, knowing I can perform fewer yoga poses now than when I started. Still, it is immeasurably appropriate as it reminds me—often painfully—that I am ultimately not my body.

Without fear of exaggeration, Chrysalis Yoga saved my life—maybe to allow for the infliction of more significant pain; I appreciate the irony—but it rescued me, nonetheless. Owner Carol Sele and her instructors have been professional, committed, and caring over the years, ensuring a communion of all souls present.

So why did I find myself wiping away tears for the two hours of anniversary celebration last Sunday? While not tears of joy, the loss of control to the room’s energy was definitely on the positive side of the ledger, yet I can make no headway describing it further. I can only conclude that the sensation of unexpected emotion resulted from an empathic screenshot of the contradictory feelings coursing through the room.

Carol, my friend, thank you for keeping the studio open during the pandemic and other difficult times. Your sacrifice has made a real difference in my life. 

Here’s to another ten! Love you, Carol. You are a gem.

The empowering choice

Recently, I flew to the East Coast to see my son, Jared. It was a great visit, with no pressure to do anything; simply being in the other’s presence was enough. Before I knew it, our time together was over, and we were pulling up to the airport on the visit’s last day. Jared and I hugged a long goodbye. I calmly turned and entered the terminal in a significantly positive mood modification from the near-debilitating panic attack six months ago during my flight home from Houston.

What did I change? I was flying alone for both flights with crowded, noisy, nearly full airplanes, conditions that should, under conventional logic, increase Parkinson’s anxiety level. The return flight from visiting my son was my second unaccompanied trans-continent flight since the Houston incident, surprising in that my Parkinson’s symptoms had only worsened in the last six months, and I had remained relaxed for both. What was going on here?

Dealing with Parkinson’s for over eighteen years since diagnosis—with deep brain stimulation surgery smack in the middle of this period—has taught me the importance of mindset. I refuse to be a victim. Even though air travel has become more complex with disease progression, more complicated does not necessarily mean more difficult, and it certainly doesn’t mean “I can’t.”

What changed? First, I chose not to accept the traditional paradigm. I feel energized and confident that I can enact the necessary changes to overcome airport challenges. Specifically, I am better mentally prepared, having conducted “what if” visualization exercises for every conceivable contingency.

For example, by most afternoons, effective verbal communication is impossible, so I printed a note explaining my situation. I have yet to need the letter, but I carry it for peace of mind. It is like carrying Xanax as a last-ditch, emergency contingency. If need be, I will take the Xanax, but I would consider it a failure, requiring me to come up with a new plan before my next plane ride—the last thing I need to add to my Parkinson’s mix is drug addiction.

My return to flying unaccompanied is just another example of doing things “The hard way” (www.peterhuntbooks.com//the–hard–way), which is just another way of saying you have empowered yourself to be happy living with Parkinson’s, which I am: every year my Parkinson’s progresses. And each passing year finds me more joyful and content. It is a choice, starting with refusing to play the victim.

Cold comfort

I’ve been aware of the positive effects of even brief exposure to cold water since 2012 when five friends and I flipped our raft on a white-water rafting trip. As we drifted downstream in the icy river, I discovered regained capabilities not exercised in the over seven years since, at the time, my PD diagnosis. I attributed the effect to adrenalin but had a hunch that something else was in play.

It wasn’t until 2014, during my search for the Lost Intruder, that I could apply a touch of scientific method to the cold water’s temporary restorative powers. I discovered through trial and error that whenever boat engine maintenance became too difficult for my clumsy fingers, that if I spent a couple of minutes treading water in Washington State’s cold year round Salish Sea, then I could complete the work effortlessly. The improvement in dexterity only lasted between five and fifteen minutes, but a mild euphoria would stay with me for the entire day, and occasionally into the next.

Still, the feelings were not tangible, leaving me to assume that they must have been a fluke. Otherwise, why wasn’t it being offered up as a free treatment option?

Although now convinced of the short-term effects of cold water on Parkinson’s symptoms, it wasn’t until 2017 that I learned of the long-term positive health impact of cold-water immersion after reading The Wim Hof Method. Wim Hof held the world record for ice water immersion for quite a while. The Wim Hof method targets the body’s biochemistry to develop what most would consider super-human abilities through regular cold-water immersion and daily breathing exercises.

The possibility of extreme temperature slowing Parkinson’s progression was not new to me. About ten years ago, I started practicing hot yoga. Regular, “cold” yoga still helped with my symptoms, but not nearly as much as the hot version. Something about extreme temperature creates what I like to think of as “good” stress, not to be confused with ordinary, societal life stress—like being stuck in traffic—which is well known for exacerbating PD symptoms.

The topic of extreme temperatures and PD has come at me in many forms. In a synchronistic coincidence, I was introduced to Mike McCastle in 2015 after a lunch arranged by a local restaurant owner who was aware of our extraordinary Parkinson’s related accomplishments. Mike had recently started the 12 labors project, working to achieve 12 strength and endurance world records to raise money and honor his father, who had died of Parkinson’s disease complications in 2014, the same year I started looking for the lost Intruder. Mike earned his 6th world record, the longest immersion in ice in 2021, spending 2 hours 40 minutes in a full ice bath to raise money for Parkinson’s related issues. 

The Wim Hof method dedicates the last two minutes of a daily shower to the coldest water the spigot will allow. To stick with this program requires mental discipline. I tried the program two years earlier but failed, in retrospect, because I was starting to dread showers. In short, I succumbed to a victim mindset. If the victim terminology is unfamiliar to you, please look at my blog of December 22, 2023. Here it is on my website: https://peterhuntbooks.com/the-hard-way

This time I’m cautiously optimistic. So far, after just 13 days, my energy level and sleep quality improvements are noticeable. I don’t want my final days on this earth clouded in ambiguity, not having tried everything I could to beat this fucking disease.

Incorporating cold water immersion into your treatment plan will without a doubt be challenging. If it turns out to be as effective in halting, and perhaps reversing PD, as I suspect it to be, then this is your opportunity to discard the victim role and take charge of your treatment: your life might literally depend on it.

I am fortunate beyond words to have such a high-powered tool untested eighteen years into my relationship with Parkinson’s, and making the most of it is exciting and satisfying. Who knows where it will lead? Please join me as I find out.

Happy to be wrong

At the beginning of last November, I posted Life’s Grandest Question which tells of a shared experience with a dog-loving neighbor. I called him Mr. Johnson. While on my regular dog-walking route, I was shocked to see a much beaten down—but not beaten—Mr. Johnson, hunched over, skin gray and sallow. That day, just three months ago, I was confident that I would never see him alive again.

And so, imagine my shock today when I spied Mr. Johnson slowly maneuvering his stooped form into the passenger seat of a garaged car. Grinning from ear to ear, I crossed the road just as he opened the car door to talk. Still sitting, Mr. Johnson grasped my hand in a surprisingly firm grip. His wife patiently looked on.

Still grasping my hand, he said, “Well, aren’t we a pair.”

I smiled warmly, replying in a dragged-out Parkinson’s slur, “I thought you had checked out on us. I’m glad to be wrong.”

Mr. Johnson sat in his car while I stood, two of us clasping hands with the fervent trust of shared hardship, both of us beaming as if privy to a private joke. We shared a long second of nature’s calming serenity, neither willing to relinquish his grip.

Before turning to continue my walk, I faced off in front of Mr. Johnson, the former Marine, and rendered a salute, just as I had done three months ago. But now the imminence of death’s inner doorway was not in question.

Peace is created when two like souls share in time’s hesitation, pausing the individual struggles ruminating on the road ahead. Uniquely aware of all presence, just two strangers in mutually carefree ignorance of the other’s first name.

She is my mother.

Familiar music fills the air, energizing the room’s collective mood from under the heavy thumb of malingering helplessness. Discrete instruments meld, joining soul to the beat of an atavistic song, summoning all to share in an era of familial innocents. Dancing Queen plays loudly, as it should, its fetching beauty stoking memory, returning to family’s first conception.

Anciently pure, happy memories of loving dependency join the family profoundly in amorphous togetherness.

Captured feet tap in unison as old shoulders sway awkwardly, desperately reaching across decades to a youth fresh in novelty. The music—the cornerstone of a long-foregone nightly family ritual—replaces the nascent pressure, an ominous despondency of empty words spoken of forlorn love to change the unchangeable.

A quiet smile rises to her eyes. She is my mother. And she is dying.

Family and friends reveal a fellowship of music’s alchemic salve, nature’s soul-soothing balm. The world’s crass conventions have no place here. There is no posturing of the morose or maudlin, no pretense of sadness. All is as it should be.

Celebrating life is not a rejection of death. Both engender a focused intensity on the inescapable conversion of the mortal experience, ushering in tears of joyful melancholy, that most powerful of witnessed sensation.

The music draws to a close, denying peace to the room. Measured by the heart’s communal rhythm, my mother leaves us, not quietly or softly, but with the same gritty, coarse passion for living she loudly proclaimed every day of her existence. A spiritual bull in the world’s China shop of experience. No worries here about going gently into that dark night.

Her spirit, fighting until her last breath, departs form as a grudging master of the earthly game. Chaos reigns over a mother’s final unspoken advice to the countless souls within her orbit, confused and lost in the world’s orthodox struggle, and then it is gone, a voice of genuine sagacity lost forever to icy dormancy.

“Live your life and no one else’s – authenticity is the only sure path to lasting happiness.”

And with that, my mother (finally…) goes silent. My fingers gently brush her eyes closed. She is my mother, and I love and miss her terribly. And we all must endure without her.

Without reservation or apology.

Yesterday, my mother’s health took a marked turn for the worse, accompanied by a dear family friend’s recommendation that I expedite my trip east. The family friend  helped out when my sister passed away in 2003, and also when my father died in 2019. When she makes a  recommendation, I listen. We moved my flight up a week.

It was only four months back that I nearly had a panic attack traveling home alone from Houston after the birth of our grandson.

The prospect of voluntarily putting myself in a similar situation initially made me extremely nervous; these days, I was more terrified of flying in the back of a safe, relatively comfortable commercial airliner than preparing for my first combat sortie during Operation Desert Storm.

I’ve thought a lot about my last solo flight, dissecting my decisions and interpretations with the same merciless dispassion as that of a young naval aviator. Despite significant differences, they shared a similar central character: death. The stark difference in context was bridged by the dire urgency of both flights.

The coming weeks promise much empty time, punctuated by a little sadness, perhaps some soulful crying. One thing is certain: the loud  laughter of Hunt humor’s off color irreverence will fill the house. My family has always laughed ferociously at life’s inconsistencies without reservation or apology.

Sharing my writing is my solace, bringing me a temporary calm. Readers: thank you, I benefit from  you more than you will ever know.

As an aside, my fear of flying solo was for naught. Taking on challenges outside one’s comfort zone is the only way to know  for sure that you are past them, or if matters have gotten worse. Despite just ninety minutes of sleep last night, I sit here at the back of a crowded airliner, thinking of jokes to tell my mother, smiling. Reflecting on my recent emphasis on a comeback, maybe it was staring me right in the gaunt face, as I plan my next, happier trip.

The brutal language of necessity

A little over a month ago, I posted a blog called “Comeback” with a video of me attempting yoga on the boat rail. It’s been a hard reversal of progress, comparing my yoga skills of eight years ago with today, as the realization hits that regardless of effort, all my mental and physical abilities will continue to fade.

The pre-deep brain stimulation yoga ended successfully, unlike the recent version where I fell in the water. Pride’s harsh language reminds me that I will not beat this thing. Despite consistently winning battles, eventually, I will lose the war.

After a surprised, “Oh shit,” I hit the water.

Reappearing after a bit, dripping wet, I smile and say, “A decidedly different outcome from eight years ago. I would have to say that my balance is much worse.”

Then, after a pause, “But my spirit is right on. Love you all.”

What a difference a few weeks makes, as I am repeatedly visited in chilling isolation by the night terrors, the sensation of anxiety’s leathery bat wings scraping deep within my gut. I write to bare my soul to suppress a burgeoning vanity, to return to balance.

Unrelated to my internal battle, my mother’s health has dramatically deteriorated recently. Losing her will make life difficult to bear for a while. While neither of us is particularly scared of dying, I have grown to rely on our frequent phone calls to recalibrate. It helps me identify my hubris.

Ushered forth is the realization that my real comeback will not be physical. It will be a taming of ego in the brutal language of necessity. All stories of hubris’s grim lesson hinge on this singular example of coming to terms through mortal combat of the soul.

Just as Odysseus leaves Troy for Ithaka because of his love for Penelope, all successful battles with hubris begin and end their story by leading with the heart.

And so will mine.