December 8, 2017

Traveling the Timeline of Now

Railway Tunnel

Traveling the Timeline of Now

I had originally titled this post “Homeless: Traveling the Timeline of Now”, but I find that I often get a very strong reaction to the word homeless.

When people ask me where I live, I say I am homeless. I say it with a smile and a sense of humor, I’m usually well dressed and drive a decent car, and I follow my quip with a brief explanation. If I get my delivery right, I get a laugh. But I’m learning that I need to be careful.

The notion of homelessness strikes a deep unease. People feel …what? Fear that it could happen them? It can happen to any of us.

I have to admit I felt like a bit of a hobo with that title.  Wearing a bandana, carrying a backpack. As if I am jumping on trains, going hither and yon without any particular plan. But there is a plan. And I’ll be sharing it in the months to come.

In the meantime, some thoughts on travel, life, cancer and time.

***

Twisting turning road

The road goes on

Travel is a journey and a metaphor. For some travel is about a place; for others it’s about an experience. Or perhaps it’s a cause for reflection.

But no matter your destination, you always travel with yourself. So what is the point of it all?

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” Henry Miller

Traveling homeless is perhaps a bit extreme for some. For me it suits, at least for now. I want simply to be, to experience this moment and to be free of the horrible betrayal that started this journey.

Travel is my way of healing.

Palm trees and sky

Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

As I start this post I am in St. Augustine, looking out the window of my beautiful room, overlooking a lovely, trickling fountain on the grounds of The Collector. A palm tree frames the picture. It is late October, it is cool and gorgeous. The snowbirds won’t arrive for another 3 weeks.

If I were traveling alone, I would linger here a bit. To enjoy the weather and to write. But I’m on a road trip with someone else, and the agenda is set. Perhaps one of the things I need to learn is to set fewer agendas.

Yet one has to plan. And I am. Against the uncertainty of homelessness, cancer and my very uncertain future.

Do my words betray me? Does one plan for or against? Does one move in faith or in fear?

“The most important question you can ever ask is if the world is a friendly place.” -Albert Einstein

cancer

Photo by Dickens Sikazwe on Unsplash

I pass other homeless people on the sidewalks. One stations himself across from the ATM machine, near the Cathedral Basilica of St. Augustine.

Another marks his spot with a cardboard box and shoe, at a place along the water.

What separates me from them? What broke them? What has broken me?

Rather than broken, I think of myself as being mightily scarred. I think of a woman in California that helps people heal their cancer experience through art. She has one lovingly plan, design and paint a clay plate that is then fired in the kiln. The final work emerges, smooth and perfect.

Then she has you smash it.

broken plate

What shall one make of the broken pieces?

It’s now your task to repurpose these broken pieces into something of beauty. It’s a perfect metaphor for many things, particularly life with cancer. Not to mention betrayal.

Overcoming betrayal and finding a new business avenue to support myself, I vacillate between pushing forward and not, although I know myself well enough that I will move forward. Somehow I always do. But the fantasy of no longer being responsible to responsibilities beckons. The thought of just letting the pieces lie is compelling.

But then what?

From The Horse Whisperer:

Tom Booker: There was a boy from the Blackfeet reservation, he used to do some work around here for a while. Sixteen, strong kid, good kid. He and I were really, really good friends. One day he went swimming and dove headfirst into the lake… and right into a rock. And it snapped his neck, paralyzed him. And after the accident I’d look in on him from time to time. But he wasn’t there. It was like his mind, his spirit, whatever you want to call it, just disappeared. The only thing left was just anger. Just sort of as if the… the boy I once knew just went somewhere else.

Grace: I know where he goes.

Tom Booker: I know you do. Don’t you disappear. You do whatever you have to do to hold on.

While pondering my intent with the pieces of my life, I somehow manage to set goals that lead me forward. Baby steps, I tell myself. I think of the Bill Murray movie and I smile.

My mind deals with the logistics. The world is not set up for homeless people. You’re expected to have an address, a tax home, a home for the purchase of health insurance whose cost is designed to make you homeless.

My ego manufactures occasional bouts of terror and doubt, about finances and health and the practicality of it all. I try to ignore this creature, but some days it’s a bit of a battle.

My soul seems to be happy to just enjoy the journey.

This push and pull between mind, soul and ego is not a disconnect; it’s just a difference of opinion. Of the three, I rather prefer my soul.

 

“Life isn’t as serious as the mind makes it out to be.” -Eckhart Tolle

 

After this trip, I will head up to Santa Fe for a few months. My soul loves the culture and geography of this New Mexican haven. In this soul haven, my mind will focus the future of CancerRoadTrip, of creating healing havens for others, to provide education and inspiration for all of us.

Some people say I am inspirational, but I don’t feel that way. I have my share of struggles. I’ve learned many of the tricks and tools that keep me mentally and psychologically fit and on track. I work on this daily. I observe my thoughts and realize that they are just thoughts. What thoughts do I choose? What reality shall I create?

My mind, ego and soul often have different perspectives.  But it’s my soul that has depth and wisdom, if only I can just stay atuned.

My soul is both worldly and other-worldly. Her worldly inclinations are towards beauty, peace and a sense of place. Aspects of being homeless are simultaneously stressful and delightful for her. Discovery and exploration is fun. Uncertainty is not.

My soul is other-worldly in that she exists to love the here and now, forever. She takes in the beauty around me with great gusto and feels fulfilled. She is very present moment.

Eckhardt Tolle, one of my favorite authors, comments that “the whole essence of Zen consists in walking along the razor’s edge of Now—to be so utterly, so completely present that no problem, no suffering, nothing that is not who you are in your essence can survive in you”.

In the Now, in the absence of time, all your problems dissolve. Even betrayal and cancer.

***

History is full of traveling souls.  Others have come before me. Others will follow after me.

Right now (fast forward from St. Augustine where this post started)  I’m sitting on a ship.

View from ship deck

Looking out to sea

Yesterday I sat and simply stared out to sea. I wandered the ship and came across an “elite” area for people who repeatedly travel with the cruise line, spending large amounts of money. They are the prize customers. The ship isn’t set up for single people with cancer. We’re not a viable market. (Cancer humor)

What struck me was that my experiences, of looking out to sea, of being a part of a group or not, are and always will be universal human experiences. I think of the prior transatlantic crossings I’ve been on; I think of people a hundred years ago on ships like the Titanic. We all feel the stir of the sea breeze; we all experience the endless vastness of the ocean. I am fascinated by the timelessness and repetition of this human experience which binds us.

Sadly, cancer is an experience that binds more of us each year. And coming to terms with future uncertainty combined with one’s mortality isn’t the simplest of tasks.

The problem with cancer is that it suggests an end point; a finite horizon.  It brings the choices of the past into bold relief and takes away the future without removing it. It creates an unknowable void.  Will I have to face more chemo? Immunotherapy? How sick or weak could I become? I’ve done this three times now. It’s had horrible repercussions in so many ways. Can I do it yet again?

Do I want to?

You’ll notice that the fear I juggle isn’t about death. I came to terms with that long ago. My fear is about what it may take to “live”. The fear is about treatment and survival with the inevitable after effects of the therapy that’s supposed to save me.

***

Cancer has caused me to cultivate the present moment.  This has been a connection of immense value to me on many levels. Through the simple act of being present, I can choose not to run in circles in my mind, but to just be.

It’s a decision that frees so much energy that otherwise would be poorly spent. I recently read that judgement is negative energy, and that thought hit home. So it is that the zen of the moment lies in acceptance, not judgement.

And by simply being present, the joy of possibilities outside the limited mind open up. The simultaneous complexity and simplicity of being present is endlessly fascinating.

When I was diagnosed in 2009, I googled marginal zone lymphoma. Some of the results weren’t so hot. Potentially manageable, not curable. May transform. Transplant. Five years, the stats said.

I refused to be powerless.

Taking charge of my cancer led to many changes in my life, all of which have been good. A vegetable rich diet gives me energy. Green tea and matcha provide antioxidant support. Connecting with others in the cancer community through Anti-Cancer Club has provided me with friends around the world, all of whom “get it”. Social media rocks when it comes to cancer.

Perhaps equally importantly, a meditation practice taught me to still my mind and that stillness comes with me in my day to day life. It reinforces that sense of being deeply, exquisitely, timelessly present.

“The art of living… is neither careless drifting on the one hand nor fearful clinging to the past on the other. It consists in being sensitive to each moment, in regarding it as utterly new and unique, in having the mind open and wholly receptive.” – Alan Watts

Photo by Jared Rice on Unsplash

If I set aside this unknowable future that my mind, health and ego periodically conjure up, I can see that I am here, now. Now, for the moment, is quite good. I can enjoy now. Now is sailing the Caribbean en route to Cartagena this perfect morning. This morning the sun rose, a perfect rising. The sea continues its gentle surge under the boat. In the distance, land is starting to appear.

 

Sunrise at sea

Sunrise in the Caribbean

Life lived out of sync with the present moment is always uncertain. But now is very known. In now, I can usually find timeless peace. So I think I’ll just quiet the doubts in my mind, still my trouble making ego, and be here now, traversing the Caribbean, traveling my timeline of now.

For those you with cancer, I  suspect you’ll understand my ramblings. For the rest of you, I beseech you to try. We are separated only by three small words and a deep realization of the reality of fleeting time in this very human life we lead.

I’ll end my reflections with this video which is for my music loving friend Robin (The Cancer Olympics) who, after everything she’s been through, is sadly undergoing yet more chemo to deal with metastatic colon cancer due to unforgivable, gross malpractice (Read her book; the story is unbelievable.)

To Robin and to all of us:

 

I hope you never lose your sense of wonder,
You get your fill to eat but always keep that hunger,
May you never take one single breath for granted,
GOD forbid love ever leave you empty handed,
I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

I hope you dance….I hope you dance.

I hope you never fear those mountains in the distance,
Never settle for the path of least resistance
Livin’ might mean takin’ chances but they’re worth takin’,
Lovin’ might be a mistake but it’s worth makin’,
Don’t let some hell bent heart leave you bitter,
When you come close to sellin’ out reconsider,
Give the heavens above more than just a passing glance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

I hope you dance….I hope you dance.
I hope you dance….I hope you dance.
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along,
Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder where those years have gone.)

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean,
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens,
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance,
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance.

Dance….I hope you dance.
I hope you dance….I hope you dance.
I hope you dance….I hope you dance..
(Time is a wheel in constant motion always rolling us along
Tell me who wants to look back on their years and wonder where those years have gone)

 

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Present moment

Traveling the Timeline of Now

What is #CancerRoadTrip and how did it come to be? Read this post to get the backstory!

Follow me on Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and at Anti-Cancer Club. Connect with me! I may need a place or two to stay along the way!

What’s on your #BucketList? Join #CancerRoadTrip for a healing adventure and a chance to win a trip of your own.

 

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4 Comments

  • Reply Khevin December 9, 2017 at 9:37 am

    Hi Pat. At an art show with Gaga for half a day. She is sharing her creations and I am writing script for my musical. Your blog came along and took me away to a lovely spot. Always good to absorb your words. I’m in the hospital overnight on Monday . 2nd new knee going in. When I wake up I’d like to be dancing. Happy travels!
    Khevin

  • Pat Wetzel
    Reply Pat Wetzel December 10, 2017 at 6:09 pm

    Let’s all dance in Santa Fe! I’ll touch base later in the week! So much to share and tell!

  • Reply the Cancer Coward January 2, 2018 at 2:16 am

    Great post – so many layers of meaning and optimism. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  • Reply Katherine Thomas January 6, 2018 at 10:42 am

    Very inspirational, thank you for sharing.

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