L.O.B.E.: Lung-Opening Buoyancy Exercise

I floated in the hot springs, like a wallowing marshmallow: inhale to come up, exhale to go down and sink beneath the surface. Lift chin, inhaling through fish lips to lift myself up, wobbling; exhale, slowly descend… to one side.

It had been a few years since I had done this, but something wasn’t right. I was rocking like a drunk.

Inhale, slopping over to the left; inhale further, watch my middle rise, then my belly. Exhale, and sink piecemeal, in chunks.

This was just weird.

I got up, reached for the brains I had left by the side of the pool, and dumped them back into my head.

Now lie back… breathe… whoa, definitely off-balance. Flopping over onto my left side, I grabbed the side of the pool as realization struck.

I was only using my lungs one lobe at a time.

Yeah, weird. I didn’t know it was possible.

Some of you know that the right bronchus is supposed to be more accessible, but it was the left lower lobe that inflated first. The right side inflated second, middle then bottom. Before the left upper lobe. My right upper lobe had simply forgotten how to expand, and took some prodding.

Inhale, slop, wobble; exhale, stagger, bump. The water let me know exactly how well — or not — I was doing.

It was a busy morning, relearning how to use my lungs, rocking like a sea serpent surfing for prey. I spent as little time as possible reflecting on how a once-athletic health nut who liked to meditate, could forget how to breathe.

In a hectic and pun-lathered conversation this afternoon, we decided that “lobing” was a good word to describe working on those skills you really should’ve mastered long ago, preferably with a built-in indicator that not even the terminally clueless could miss.

I’ll spare you the wordplay, except that I’m a little worried about the Loberlords.

Next, I’ll try to go for a walk… but that’s far more complicated.

Maybe I’ll just sit here and breathe.

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Beyond courage & compassion

Here is a link to an article I once would have found moving and relevant to my nursing practice:

Courage and Compassion

The central idea is that the writer is dealing with an Ivy Leaguer with early dementia, who does the usual things of declaring that it’s “not that bad” even as her mind shatters piecemeal. The writer is trying to figure out how to be a good therapist while trying not to panic at the thought that it could happen to her. She looks for her answer in Buddhism, which is not a bad start.

I wrote a response which seemed too long to go through the web page’s comment function. I thought it over, and decided to post these ideas here, since this is the quintessence of learning how to live with the unbearable.

For several reasons — including being wildly overmedicated on antidepressants — I’ve gone back and forth across this line of intellectual capacity and incoherence. Since my central nervous system is still compromised, I will inevitably go back across that line again, if I live long enough. (Sadly, science focuses on the pain of my condition rather than the impaired function. As far as I can tell, the scientific subculture in psychiatric medicine has absolutely no regard for intellectual capacity in its patients, considering intelligence disposable — when it’s mentioned at all.)

There is another reason why this writer’s patients tell themselves it’s not that bad. Like most of those with an acquired disability, they find that there is more to life than they imagined, and that functioning with an impairment in an aspect of life they once considered essential, has opened up their minds — and their hearts — to aspects of life they never realized they valued so much.

This newly-demented woman is still loved. Her survival is still assured — to the extent one can say that in this world. Even though she lived all those years depending so heavily on her intellectual capacity, there comes a time, when everything is swept away and every characteristic you thought defined your “self” is gone, when you realize that something is still standing there, asking the question, “Who — or what — am I?”

Our ideas of who we are, are, I suspect, an essential part of samsara, or the world of illusion. I know that, whatever happens to me, the answer to the question of identity is both eternally answered and perfectly unanswerable.

In the end, it may be that we find we don’t need those illusions. If I didn’t have to struggle to survive, if I had a spouse and children and insurance, functioning without my intellect would have been immeasurably easier. When I lose it again, I have no idea what I’m going to do. However, I have a pretty good idea which of my friends will be able to stay with me on that journey. The past few years have been enlightening in that respect.

Suffering is, by definition, a willful engagement in the anguish of life. I find that it soon loses its charm. Is it more useful to struggle with the engagement of my ego, or to turn my attention to what works — the love in my life, the warmth of the sun, the value of the moment, the puzzle of doing the very next task?

In front of a boat propped up on blacktop, a man holds a bubble wand with bubbles streaming away, lit up by sunlight.

Losing my mind was a stunning lesson in the fact that it’s not about my limited and ego-driven ideas of myself. It was a door to perceiving what really fills my world, what lies beyond my expectations and beyond my uniquely limited understanding. Through her work with these people, this writer may have the privilege of discovering that, without having to pay the savage price that most of us have to pay for that understanding.

She writes with desperate fear of facing this herself, but this opportunity could be the gift that insulates her from the very devastation she fears, even if it does happen.

We humans are driven to comfort as the sparks fly upward, but there are times when it makes sense to turn your back on present comfort to ensure your future safety. Her fear won’t ease until it’s dealt with, as this issue is part of her work.

As for me, it’s time to go meditate. I intend to weather my future well, regardless of how little intelligence I can bring to bear at any given moment.

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A bad day

I thought being able to live would ease my system. Unfortunately, my hands and feet are freaking out and going suddenly, rapidly downhill on pretty much the same trajectory as a week ago. I’m having the natural feelings that all artists, crafters, musicians and handyfolk have as they contemplate a plate of wieners at the end of each hand and wonder if this is finally it.

Reaction setting in? Perhaps. It occurred to me that even a surge of _positive_ emotion is still a huge shock to a fragile system. What I know for sure is that today has been the worst pain day I can recall. Off the charts.


Lacking a boyfriend, I’m contemplating my next pet: something with rough fur, since cuddling with texture helps my arms’ skin normalize sensation a bit. That could help.

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The ground beneath my feet

I said quietly to my lawyer about an hour ago, “I’m not used to being massively relieved or explosively happy. So I’m just going to sit here and think about it for a minute.”

The settlement of my worker’s comp case turned out in a way everyone looks very pleased with.

First, I got something to eat (oxygen first, blood sugar second, everything else third, during big emotional surges — elementary mental hygiene!)

For the past half hour or so, I’ve been just strolling around, practicing feeling not worried about survival. Amazing how it all comes back.

This time, though, I’m well aware of embracing my inner Scot — I’ll tend my money carefully, because I understand its value and power as I never have before.

The crystalline nugget that emerged, as the shock and fog cleared away, was this:

I’ve always been rich. Now, I can afford to survive.

The happy thought that followed was: I can finally afford to have a pet. Maybe a ferret … I could use more work on my reasoning skills anyway.

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"Nothing you do is in vain"

My older brother’s sister-in-law has been doing international relief work for almost as long as I’ve known her. She was so helpful and wise, at the time that I was considering it myself, that I didn’t go into the field, though the thought of being so useful to those in such need was overwhelmingly seductive.

I know I don’t have the mental scale that lets you balance what you can’t accomplish with what you can, and decide whether the tradeoff is acceptable. The conditions are so harsh and the scale of work so grim that it imposes limits on care that are unimaginable to those of us who take soap and clean towels for granted; let’s not even think about bandages or IVs. I’d have come off very badly indeed, and that means I couldn’t have done much good.

In our intercontinental conversation on the subject (she’s British), she pulled off a balancing act I have strived to acheive ever since: clearly convinced of my capacities, without any assumption that she knew what they were. When you think about it, that’s very sensible — everybody’s good at something, often several somethings, and there’s nothing that says they have to wear their talents on their sleeves.

I was desperately intrigued by international aid work, but not sure I should pursue it and not even sure how to start; I wanted to know what to do to improve my chances.

She told me, “It doesn’t really matter what you do.” Shifting up from her lovely gentle, understated, soft British manners, I was riveted to my chair as her voice became more resonant, more intense, and I could hear the words marching from the depths of her soul, as she said something like this: “Do what you do; follow your instincts; do the work that comes to you. If [disaster relief] is the right work, the opportunities will open for you when you put yourself in their way, and whatever you’ve done until then will help you get there. If something else is right for you, then whatever you’ve done will help you get there instead.” And then, with a certainty that still makes my bones ring, “Nothing you do is wasted effort. Nothing you do is in vain.”

That was a third of my lifetime ago. Even now, when I have to pull myself through these non-international, unaided situations that are unimaginably grim in a totally different way, I remember her words and how she said them: “Nothing you do is in vain.”

Knowing that no effort is wasted effort, everything becomes much less difficult. Even in such a tiny life as mine has become, this matters hugely. In fact, it totally changes the game.

She was awarded an MBE in this year’s Queen’s Birthday Honors list. Clearly someone agrees that her own work is far from in vain.

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How moving

I’m working on clearing out all the needless stuff from my boat. This includes unfinished projects, equipment for work I can no longer do, things I’ve kept only because they’re too cute to get rid of, and so on. It’s been sufficiently, um, absorbing that I have neglected the blogs, but I’m playing catch-up online as I take an hour or two this morning to step back and breathe.

One realization that has helped me tremendously is the insight that NOTHING IS WASTED. I realized this when I held up a shirt that I had worn for a sweaty project: it was too smelly to use as a rag, but I couldn’t bring myself to wash it (laundry costs), and I realized it ought to go in the bin.

In a century or three, it will make very nice dirt for something to grow in. And isn’t it possible, I found myself thinking, that holding relentlessly to individual human scales of usefulness and time is a little … well, ethnocentric isn’t even the word. Speciecentric? … We are, after all, part of a greater reality which none of us will see the end of.

This expands on an idea I had long ago: that I don’t have to hold everything inside my skin. I was meditating to escape pain one day, and it followed me in, the jerk. So I took the idea that I’m just one drop in the ocean of humanity, and as my sense of awareness grew and expanded, the pain did not — it dissipated, being spread so wide over the whole world, and went away.

It was waiting for me when I got back, of course, but for one thing there was less of it; for another, the break did me a lot of good.

So I’m working on expanding my awareness. It makes it easier to detach from Things — objects whose main purpose is to take up space, use up mental energy, and carry some emotional trigger that, in fact, I probably don’t need. Life is quite emotional enough without the needless triggers, thanks.

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Radiant

We got the first rain since the reactors melted down in Japan. Weather systems being what they are — global, persistent, and efficient vectors — I took that rather seriously: scrubbed the deck to reduce absorption capacity, reconstructed the cockpit cover to keep the rain off, shoved fuel and spare cushions into the hard storage area, cleaned up belowdecks so I could stand being indoors for a couple days. Also stocked up on miso and tasty seaweed treats, to protect my thyroid — damn, they’re good.

In the absence of a Geiger counter… One of the really fun things about radiation is that — like fiberglass dust — we have no good way of assessing our exposure until it’s much too late to change it. As a nurse and as a DIY boat-owner, I figure it’s reasonable to protect myself as best I can, then hope for the best.

Tech note on seaweed/thyroid remark: the natural iodine in seaweed and miso loads up your thyroid gland’s iodine receptors. This leaves no room for radioactive iodine — carried in rainwater, for instance — to glom onto you. It’s exactly the same mechanism as the benign iodine in radiation pills. The dosage is more precise with the pills, but the taste of the seaweed treats is rather better.

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Because things change anyway

As I rebuilt my posture this morning per usual, I remembered a conversation I had in my 30’s with my Shaolin teacher. I was sorting out knee issues, and after a week of working on something I hadn’t thought much about in several decades, I said in a ‘pity me’ voice, “I’m relearning how to walk.”

He shrugged, too distracted by the picayune-ness to notice the self-pity: “I’m always relearning how to walk.”

That was one of those moments that made me go away and think all the way up the thought, all the way down the thought, and all the way across it, too. (A good Sifu/sensei can do this to you, sometimes in even fewer words than that. Ted Mancuso in Santa Cruz; look him up.)

So here’s today’s update from the Department of the Blitheringly Obvious, which does a brisk trade because we are so good at not connecting the dots … Or I am, anyway:

1. Time moves.
2. We go with it.
Therefore,
3. Things change.
Therefore,
4. Our bodies alter, and take us with ’em.
Therefore,
5. We are always relearning, whether we know it or not.

Therefore…

I might as well pay a bit of attention and relearn better, instead of slipping off into relearning unconsciously and making things worse.

My posture is definitely improving. Core strength is damn good. Pants fit and my low back is MUCH better.

I haven’t worried much about my knees in ages. … Hunh.

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