Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Back to School

The early elementary classroom I used to return to after a long summer with bee stings, sprained ankles, and sun burns; looked very much like the one above including the "Regulator" clock on the wall which I would watch tick one-minute jerking by at a time until we were FREE from yet another day of school. It did not have a "stove" but rather under the windows were alternating bookcases and radiators.

My middle elementary school desks looked very much like these. Some had a top which lifted (this created a "messy desk" situation and some had an open front into which you would place your books and school supplies (this also created a "messy desk" situation.) My favorite subject was art and messy "desk cleaning" time.

This is how my high school desks looked. Like the early and middle elementary school desks, they were very uncomfortable and created a "fidgety" situation for which every now and then you would be called out or sent to the Principal's Office. This was also the time in a boy's life when the notebook served as camouflage when holding it in front of you while walking down the halls. (If you get my drift.) 

This year, as "Back to School" sales and supplies began showing up, I was very tempted to buy myself a set of brand new school supplies. Pictured below are supplies in my memory from elementary and high school. I attended K-8 from 1950 - 1958 at Goudy, Stewart, and Boone Chicago Public Schools. I attended High School from 1958 - 1962 at Senn and Mather (CPS.) 

There was always a wonderful feeling in having all new supplies. They had a certain smell (when is the last time you took a good inhale of a fresh box of Crayola crayons, pencils, or taken a bite of your Pink Pearl?)   Pictured below are a three-ringed binder with dividers and lined paper (earliest,) pocket folders (earlier,) Trapper Keeper (later,) fountain pens (earliest,) cartridge ink pens (next earliest,) ball point pens (earlier,) BIC pens (later,) pencils, pencil sharpeners, crayons, colored pencils, mucilage (earliest,) paste (earlier,) glue (later,) wooden rulers (earlier,) plastic rulers (later,) protractor, compass, erasers. Think I got them all covered.

But instead of buying all of them just for old times sake, I decided to picture them here. My heart aches for those kids who cannot afford to arrive at school on the first day completely outfitted with new clothes, sweet smelling school supplies, and a few bucks in their pocket for lunch money! The MORE THAN EVER EDUCATION FUND, established by Gregory and me and administered by La Casa Norte is trying to help a little. Makes me feel good, but the job is immense and so many kids go without! One step at a time, I guess! 



Sunday, August 13, 2017

Permanence vs Impermanence

I have been thinking about this one as a part, I guess, of my continuing process of grieving Gregory's death on October 4, 2015. We are coming up on two years. Cannot believe that it feels like a lifetime ago and like yesterday at the same time.

One of Buddhism's tenets is that nothing is permanent. Everything, yes everything, is in transition. You are different people than you were when you went to sleep last night. You will be different people when you go to bed tonight than you were when you woke up this morning.

These differences, at the basic level, are due to sloughing off cells and growing new ones. These differences are based on your experiences as individuals and with others. These differences are because of what you did today, what you saw today, what you heard today, what you said today. These differences are what make life and love interesting and vital and in turn make your relationship interesting and vital.

There will be failures and there will be successes. There will be illnesses and there will be wellnesses. There will be problems and there will be solutions. There will be arguments and there will be making ups. There will be tears and there will be laughter. There will be sorrow and there will be joy.

My wish for you … dear reader ... is that you try to make sure that you change with the changes you will encounter because encounter them you will. My wish for you … see the lessons these changes teach you and the growth you encounter because of these changes. My wish for you … make sure that your love for self and others continues to grow and change,

… and my wish for you … love every day like tomorrow may never arrive!

• • •

Another tenet of Buddhism is that because we try so hard to create permanence, which we can never really do, we suffer. We suffer the changes because as a human being we want to be happy and never sad, we hope to be successful and financially stable and never fail or be poor. We suffer because we blindly hold on to those things which we know we cannot hold. We suffer the day we begin to intellectualize things as a child and realize that we love life but that we will die. Everyone we love will die.

So having been thinking about this, I came to a conclusion? understanding? new way of living and dealing with the fact that Gregory is dead? Easily stated: Go with the changes. They are what they are and the only defense you have is how you think about them and how you react to them.

If you have "good," know that you may loose it but you get "good" back again in ways you might never have imagined. If you have "bad" it will pass also. Be careful not to allow yourself to hold on to "bad" in the name of seeking permanence of any kind. You would be amazed at how many people hold onto "bad" because it is a known entity and they still are trying for permanence (which never can  be achieved.)

My first thought is that Gregory's death is the one thing that is permanent, not always changing. Not being of this physical world any longer, change is not taking place. Some things are permanent for me, like never seeing him again, never kissing him again, never being able to hold his hand. No sharing of thoughts, no discussions, no arguments, no disagreements, no talking about recent adventures.

Yet I realized that in my memories and dreams I am still able to do all of these things and often in my dreams, they are so real I can feel him! I realized that even in death there is constant impermanence. Partly because I now hold Gregory in my heart, my memory, my thoughts ... as I change so does he. 

As my memory of events we shared together are revisited they will change. As I grow to be a new person each day, my relationship to Gregory as I see it will reflect the new person that I become, so there is impermanence there as well.

Also, who is to say that in his new place Gregory is not still changing, learning, progressing towards higher levels of love, compassion, and being?

On a day when I was particularly down (should I say depressed?) dealing with some of the more difficult times during Gregory's (our) journey with Alzheimer's, I had another realization. None of the difficult memories that I have are true anymore because they no longer exist for Gregory (or for me) so why do I allow them to continue to bother me, to add a measure of guilt for not having been better, at bringing me down today?

Holding on to these difficult times memories serve no purpose, do not serve Gregory, and certainly do not serve me. So why hold on to them. Release them and work at only remembering the good, the joy, the what I call "Momentary Monumental Miracles." Remembering the good times during his 12-year journey helps. Towards the end of his illness; instances like Gregory spontaneously telling me he loved me, or thanking me and saying that I am a good person, or our laughing together, or his giving me the last kiss having been in a coma for three days; are the ones I'll hold on to. 

I can tell I am getting better at my grieving if only because I am only rarely OVERWHELMED with sorrow. Most often, I will look at his photograph and say out loud, "Gregory, I love you. What an ordeal we went through! But we made it, you and I, didn't we?"

And he replies, "Yes, we did. And we did it well!" 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Barbara Cook RIP

I'm Not Going To Miss You

RIP Glenn Campbell

Today He Cried For Joy

My friend Pat and I were talking about this the other day and she said I should write about it if I hadn't already done so. I thought that I had so I searched high and low but could not find the piece. Just came across it now as I was continuing the editing of my upcoming memoirs with the working title: GYROSCOPE: An Alzheimer's Love Story.
This morning's routine was the same for Gregory. He woke up thirsty but didn't know what to do about it. He needed reminding to sit on the toilet for a while. Then he needed reminding to shave, to have the shaver taken out of the medicine cabinet for him, to be turned on, and to be put into his hand as it was guided towards his face. He needed help with putting on his deodorant and his face cream. He needed guidance into his undershirt oriented correctly for him and his underpants as well. He slipped his arms into the correctly held for him sweat shirt and his sweat pants as well.
All this was done with love and patience and kindness without making him ask first or struggle trying first. This has always been the conundrum for me, in which if I do it all, he loses the ability more quickly but if I hold back we run the risk of frustration and fear. He has gotten to the point recently that I have just decided to do it all for him because he cannot do it for himself anymore.

After we were finished, he held me and cried into my shoulder muttering about how proud he was of himself that he was able to do it all without any help. So, my doing it all for him caused the memories of his doing it all for himself to be strong and the ruler of his emotions. Muscle memory! A strange lesson for me to learn but a good one.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Unknowing Yogi

These thoughts spoke to me.

"The rejuvenating effects of sleep are due to man's temporary unawareness of body and breathing. The sleeping man becomes a yogi; each night he unconsciously performs the yogic rite of releasing himself from bodily identification, and of merging the life force with healing currents in the main brain region and in the six sub-dynamos (chakras)  of his spinal centers. Unknowingly, the sleeper is thus recharged by the cosmic energy that sustains all life."

Autobiography of a Yogi. Paramahansa Yoganhanada. 1945. Page 268.

"Gross man seldom or never realizes that his body is a kingdom, governed by Emperor Soul on the Throne of the Cranium, with subsidiary Regents in the six spinal centers or spheres of consciousness (Chakras.) This theocracy extends over a throng of obedient subjects; twenty-seven thousand billion in cells (endowed with sure if seemingly automatic intelligence by which they perform all duties and bodily growths, transformations, and dissolutions) and fifty million substratal thoughts, emotions,and variations of alternating phases in man's consciousness in an average life of sixty years.

"An apparent insurrection in the human body or mind against Emperor Soul, manifesting as disease or irrationality, is due to no disloyalty among the humble subjects, but stems from past or present misuse by man of his individuality or free will -- given to him simultaneously with a soul, and revocable never.

"Identifying himself with a shallow ego, man takes for granted that it is he who thinks, wills, feels, digests meals, and keeps himself alive, never admitting through reflection (only a little would suffice) that in his ordinary life he is naught but a puppet of past actions (karma) and of past Nature or environment (thoughts and experiences. )

Autobiography of a Yogi. Paramahansa Yoganhanada. 1945. Page 272.

So the two lessons are work at removing yourself from the conceited thoughts that it is you alone who is in charge of yourself. Rather, the question is "Who are you?" Ego vs true self?

Breathing Lessons

Ideas suggested to me by Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda. 1945.

Focusing on the breath, on breathing, is one of the fundamental tenets of Buddhism and Yoga.Yoga is a group of physical, mental, and spiritual practices or disciplines which originated in ancient India. Buddhism is a philosophy and set of teachings which encompass a variety of traditions, beliefs and spiritual practices largely based on teachings attributed to the Buddha. 

Something as necessary and simple as breathing can be a way to help you meditate, fall asleep, deal with a stressful situation, melt away anger or frustration, and much more.

Everyone breathes. A seemingly simple statement. But the ramifications of that statement suggest that through our breathing, especially if done with the correct intent (besides the need to breathe if we are to stay alive,) we can all touch a measure of peace, contentment, and understanding in our daily life without having to learn any new sophisticated skills. Just breathe!

The ancient Yogic technique of focusing on breathing converts the breath into mind-stuff. There is a mathematical relationship between a human's respiratory rate and the variation in states of consciousness, states of emotion.

In attempting some delicate or difficult physical feat or when keeping great focus; one automatically breathes very slowly. Quick or uneven breathing comes with fear, lust, anger.

When resting or sleeping one breathes more slowly than when engaging in physical work or exercising. When one is content and calm one breathes more slowly than when angry, agitated, upset. 

We can all speed up or slow down our breath when we concentrate on it. The difficulty is remembering to concentrate. especially when in the heat of a situation.

For example, when frightened or angry it will be more difficult to slow down your thoughts and/or emotions enough to think about breathing. If you are in a "fight or flight" situation, you will most likely have a difficult time remembering to work on your breathing. 

If you are asleep, resting, or quietly contented you are probably so relaxed that you will not need not remember to think about how your breathing contributes to these blissful feelings.

The difficulty is keeping aware of one's breath patterns and changing them when necessary. But if we think this through, and practice on purpose at various times during a day when neither overly stimulated or at rest, or when we are in an adverse situation trying to remember to think about our breathing (similar to remembering to count to 10 when angry  before reacting; we can get used to having more control over this seemingly automatic bodily function; to think about controlling our breathing when we most need to. We can do this over time without having to force our breathing.

When you are able to do just that; the fear, the anger, the emotional upset often comes under control and one can proceed to a calmer, more peaceful place and be better able to think things through, solve problems, interact with others. 

I found it amazing that since everyone is breathing all the time, we could all work towards meditating as we live and better experience our days and nights, and what a more pleasant life that would be.

Two breathing meditations are taught. 

Soham (so 'ham) is the Sanskrit for "I myself" or "It is I" or "She/He is I." When used for meditation, "Soham" acts as a natural mantra to control one's breathing pattern to help achieve deep breath and gain concentration.

  • Sooooo... is the sound of exhalation, and is remembered in the mind along with exhalation.
  • Hammmm... is the sound of inhalation, and is remembered in the mind along with inhalation.
The mantra is also inverted from So 'ham, to Ham Sa, also been interpreted as "I myself am the Swan, where the swan symbolizes the Atmanmeaning "self, soul," a philosophical concept common to all schools of Hindu and Buddhism philosophy
  • Hammmm... is the sound of exhalation, and is remembered in the mind along with exhalation.
  • Saaaaaa... is the sound of inhalation, and is remembered in the mind along with inhalation.
Many a night, I have put myself to sleep quite quickly by using the SoHam or HamSa meditations. I am I. I am that which is. Translated to: I am all which I experience and I experience all which I am. 

By practicing an awareness of my breathing at various times during the day, on purpose and when not under duress, I have become better able to call on that technique when in need. I like to compare it to the game of football. The time to practice catching the ball is not when it is coming towards you during the heat of a game with the stands full of spectators! Practice does make perfect, or at least closer to perfect.

With thanks to Corinne Peterson for the two meditation mantras.

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