Lost and Found

About a month or two ago, I wrote about two objects I love dearly, which I lost. One was a red knit hat which I always wore when out walking in the cold weather. It made me feel happy to put it on because it was such a colorful contrast to the grayness of winter.

I keep waiting for it to show up, but now I believe…the hat is gone for good ūüė¶

The other object I lost was a beautiful handmade writing folio, given to me by one of my oldest and dearest friends about three decades ago. I cherished it because of the skill that went into making this binder, crafted by a young woman I once knew in California, and because it was such a special kind of gift to receive: A gift that said, “You are worthy of this special item.”

I searched for the portfolio diligently for several weeks, but then began to realize I would have to get used to the idea of having lost it, since it was nowhere to be found. I tried to tell myself to “detach,” in the Buddhist sense of the word. After all, things do come and go in our lives, so we can’t stay too attached to them. I have become better at embracing this philosophy, but this particular loss still deeply saddened me because of its connection to my now deceased friend who gave it to me.

You guessed it…the portfolio reappeared in my life just a few days ago. I was going through some boxes of papers in my bedroom and suddenly there it was at the bottom of a pile of mail, and notebooks, and other detritus. I could hardly believe my eyes. I lifted it from the box and immediately felt someone in the universe was taking care of me. I felt that my dear friend was sending me a message. It was a a very amazing, completely unexpected outcome.

There’s one more piece of good news in the Department of Lost and Found. After nearly six weeks of attending Weight Watcher’s meetings, watching myself gain and lose the same 2-3 pounds, I finally achieved the 5 pound mark (plus almost another half pound)!

This probably seems silly, but even though I lost only a few pounds, I found new confidence. It has been very difficult to start this weight-loss journey. I wasn’t sure if I had the strength to stick with it, but today I feel like I can keep going. One day at a time….

Oh, and one last discovery…an object I “found” on a walk today with my daughter. Another positive message from the universe…to Ed.

I hope Ed, whoever he is, found it, too!

Lost and found, lost and found…. The dance of life!

Oliver Sacks and His Periodic Table: It is the process of dying that matters most

This week an old and dear friend of mine died of terminal lung cancer. She was 85 and lived a very full life as a professor of literature, a poet, a gardener, an ocean swimmer, a daughter and a friend to many. I was fortunate to be able to visit her a few weeks ago in California while she was still ambulatory and able to say a few words and share a few memories. The world always feels to me like there’s an empty space and a loss of energy when someone close to me dies.

Without meaning to be morbid, I must confess that dying has been on my mind somewhat this past year as I fought my own battle with fourth-stage cancer. Apparently, I am not alone in my thoughts: There is a national conversation taking place about the process of dying. We are debating how much control people should have over their own death; whether they have the right to end their own lives if they no longer wish to live; whether doctors should have conversations about death with their patients (and whether or not they should be reimbursed for those conversations); and what constitutes quality of life when you have a terminal illness. The list goes on and on.

Today there was an editorial in the NY Sunday Times written by Oliver Sacks, one of my favorite “science” writers and observers of human behavior. A professor of neurology at New York University, he has written many famous books about unusual human phenomena including The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat. He is now in the process of dying from terminal liver cancer that is now in its final stages. He has already written and published several articles about his own process of dying and I have hung on every word he has written. Yes, partly because I came too close for comfort this past winter myself, but more because I am fascinated by how clear-headed he is about the process he is experiencing and sharing with us. No one wants to talk about death; yet, he does. In fact, I wish I could have had a few personal conversations with him this past winter as I contemplated my own demise.

Mr. Sacks finds that he is comforted by what he refers to as the “physical world” and explains how he wishes he could be around for certain discoveries in nuclear physics that are on the brink of happening. He explains how his beloved “element-friends in England” each year send him the corresponding element to each of his birthdays. So this year, for example, they sent him “a realm devoted to lead, element 82” for his recent 82nd birthday. He also cherishes a “beautifully machined piece of beryllium (element 4) to remind me of my childhood and of how long ago my soon-to-end life began.” He shares that he wants to be wheeled outdoors to gaze upon the night sky when he is close to death. So do I.

I am currently reading a book entitled Kingdom of Ten Thousand Things, which the author, Gary Geddes, subtitled “An Impossible Journey from Kabul to Chiapas.” I am a sucker for pilgrimages of any kind that satisfy my wanderlust and my search for the meaning of life. This is about a personal journey undertaken by the author to trace the path of a legendary monk from Afghanistan, named Huishen, who journeyed across Asia and finally to the Northwest Coast of the Americas long before the Europeans arrived to share spiritual teachings about Buddhism with everyone along the way. The author finds scant evidence to support this legend, but is determined to find out for himself whatever he can. Last night while reading, I learned something that surprised me. Although the Chinese do register births, they do not record the deaths of individuals. No Death Certificate is issued. Thus, in more than one monastery where he hoped to obtain some information about Huishen, there was none.

This practice in China, which continues today, caused me to pause. It seemed such a huge contrast in cultures; one that I had never known existed. Here in the Western world we have made death more and more of an event. Even though we still haven’t agreed on the details, we do seem to agree that honoring the death of a loved one or important person is part of our culture. And now, thanks to enlightened souls like Oliver Sacks, we are being provided with a peek into a personal experience that still has us transfixed, but is becoming less and less of a mystery. I, for one, am encouraged by the greatly diverse and unique experiences people have as they are dying, and that there is not one best way to die. It would make me very sad to think that the end of a life would not be noticed or honored in some way. I hope that I can one day make the process of dying a meaningful one for myself and my loved ones. I pledge to support anyone else’s choice to do so to the best of my ability.

Practicing Mindfulness: How SOL Writing Changed My Mood and My Life

Think about the things you do every day. ¬†Most of them we do without thinking about them. We do them automatically such as brushing our teeth, washing dishes, making our beds, eating, sleeping…the list is endless. ¬†Now think about the things you really pay attention to in your day. ¬†For each of us it will be different. ¬†For me these things include spending time with my daughter, taking a good walk, observing nature, reading before I go to sleep every night, and now…writing my daily slice.

I am not a participant in any organized religion. ¬†The closest I come to spirituality is to believe in what I call The Church of Nature. ¬†For me, this practice involves being out in the natural world, experiencing whatever phenomena are happening that day and deeply appreciating all the wonders of the world, big and small. ¬†(I wrote about this in a previous blog.) ¬†On my journey through life I have collected, consciously and sometimes unconsciously bits of wisdom from various sources that have helped me develop my own spiritual practice, the newest among them being the practice of “mindfulness.”

What is mindfulness?  I turned to a book on my shelf entitled, Awakening the Buddhist Heart,  for a definition to share with you.  I am not a  Buddhist, but I do find many of the Buddhist practices help me to see my life from a different perspective. Although I have known about mindfulness for some time since I first learned about the benefits of meditation, I think I have now arrived at a deeper understanding of it through the daily writing we have all been doing.

According to Lama Sura Das, the author of the above-mentioned book “The single greatest tool that we can all access to hep us connect to our true lives is paying attention, or the cultivation of conscious awareness, which Buddhists call ‘mindfulness.’ Mindfulness is how we connect to the reality of ‘what is.’ When we are fully mindful, we are better able to see the reality of any situation. This is called clear vision. When we are mindful, we have greater mastery over our own lives. When we are mindful, we find greater joy in the small moment-by-moment pleasures of life; we are more fully present, less absentminded. We can savor life and plumb deeper into its depths rather than merely wading in the shallows.”

I am not at all suggesting that everyone become Buddhist. But in the past 15 days I have realized that the daily practice of paying attention to something that is happening each day in one’s life is a kind of meditation, or mindfulness. It has helped me enormously by lifting me from the depression I was left with following cancer treatment and trying to reintegrate into a more joyful life. It has allowed me to focus on what is happening right now, today, rather than what has happened or might happen. Doing so has helped me to feel real happiness in my life again

So thank you, slicers, for being mindful by paying attention each day and writing about moments of your own life, and responding to others who are sharing their slices of life. Being part of this writing community has helped me to become more mindful and enjoy life again.