In Eight Steps to Happiness Geshe-la says "'Self' and 'other' are relative terms, rather like 'this mountain' and 'that mountain ... 'This' and 'that' therefore depend upon our point of reference. This is also true of self and other. By climbing down the mountain of self, it is possible to ascend the mountain of other, and thereby cherish others as much as we presently cherish ourself."

Monday, December 30, 2013

Gen-la Dekyong in Vacouver Jan 22-6

The Western Canada Dharma Celebration is next month in White Rock, B.C. Gen-la is also giving a public talk Thurs the 23rd at 7pm, and opening their Centre the day before that at 6pm.
Many of us from the Pacific NW are hoping to attend, and I expect there will be carpools if you need a ride from Seattle.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Busy Treating Side Effects

Just wanted you to know I am having a bunch of nuisance side effects that are familiar from previous rounds of chemo but take up a lot of my day, which is already shortened from ongoing fatigue.
If I don't post for a week or two, it's likely because I'm focused on treating the side effects and the side effects from treating the side effects. (My doctor thought the mouth infection was a side effect of the drug that in other ways prevents side effects - and has other beneficial qualities - although the infection can also be linked to my chemo drug. Samsaric medicine! Now that I am on a 4-week chemo schedule, rather than the 3 weeks out of 4 schedule I was on for a few years, I only take that drug for a week. One less thing to keep track of for the moment.)

If you are curious about my current days as a cancer patient, here are a few details.
For the Hand-Foot Syndrome, aka PPE (Palmar-Plantar Erythrodysesthesia), I'm supposed to ice my feet and hands 3x/day, and I am not supposed to walk or use my hands very much - which means I'm not supposed to do much typing!
Note that there is another hand-foot syndrome that's a side effect of a lot of chemos called "peripheral neuropathy," basically numbness, which can be serious. I've had that in a mild form on previous chemo drugs.

For the mouth infection (not a mouth sore, which is another potential side effect from this chemo, and which I did have a couple months ago), I am to ...
- gargle with warm salt water 4x/day
- gargle with a liquid medication 4x/day
- dissolve a pill under my tongue for half an hour 5x/day

Because my memory and brain have been affected by all the chemo, it takes some effort to keep track of all of this, and I use notes on paper.

Thankfully I don't have the ear infection or the bleeding nose that I had last round in addition to the mouth infection, so I don't need to take the antibiotic or apply the ointment.

What I am really grateful for, however, is Buddha, Dharma and Sangha - and that is you.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Other Way to Purify

I think of this as coming from film noir when the cop says to the suspect, "We can do this the easy way or the hard way," but apparently that phrase is used all over the place ... including in this blog post, because that's the way I'm thinking about purification. The easier, pleasant way is to do Vajrasattva or 35 Confession Buddhas, or to dedicate any virtuous action with sincere regret to purifying our negative karma.
The harder way is to keep a happy mind while experiencing your negative karma ripening. If you get angry or annoyed or unhappy in some other way, you only create more bad karma.
So for the recent Vajrasattva Retreat at KMC WA, I did it the harder way. I had a lot of side effects of my chemo, including a mouth infection a (not the mouth sores I experienced in the past on this regimen) and an ear infection. I was expecting the same side effects I'd had previously on these drugs, but that isn't what happened. Surprise! It was also very samsaric that the treatments for the side effects spawned more side effects!
My day is already shorter than usual, because of the fatigue, and it seemed like I was spending 2/3 of it trying to take care of these effects. For example, taking this pill 5x/day, letting it dissolve in my mouth over 1/2 hour; that one 4x/day; this other one every 12 hours with food; plus this ointment 2x/day; gargling salt water, then gargling with this medicine and then not putting anything in my mouth for an hour or so ...). It took more than a week for things to start turning around.

As Geshe-la says in Meaningful to Behold (on page 238 of the current, 2007 edition):
"...once we realize that we always reap the fruit of our own actions, receiving good for good and evil for evil - we shall be able to remain inwardly peaceful and calm even in the most adverse circumstances. We can view the harm we receive with a sense of relief, seeing our pain as the repayment of a long-standing debt. This is certainly preferable to becoming angry and upset, which only incurs the future debt of more pain and anguish."
I find this analogy heartening because it feels so good to pay off a debt, and it helps me try to stay peaceful when I'm sick.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Another Benefit of Acceptance

We know that patient acceptance has many benefits, which we can read about in two of my favorite books, How to Solve Our Human Problems and Meaningful to Behold, among others. As Geshe-la says in How to Solve:
As long as we are in conflict with life's difficulties, thinking that things should be different from the way they are and blaming circumstances or other people for our unhappiness, we will never have the clarity or spaciousness of mind to see what is really binding us.

Not only does patience bring peace and joy and allow us a wider perspective that leads to wisdom. In my experience it also opens up space for the situation to shift. I'm remembering that I only found the neurosurgeon whose quick scheduling allowed me to go to Brazil Festival 2010 after I let go of the expectation I would make it; I did not, however, let go of the wish.
Yesterday a friend told a story about a similar huge shift. She's had a years-long complicated family challenge that kept spiraling downward. When she deeply accepted the situation, things started getting better for her whole family, even in medical and legal terms.
Another example was the one I described this week in the post Latest Health Update: I Am Good. It was only after I accepted seeing her colleague that I got an appointment with Dr V.

My rough mind has an image: a small truck on narrow street, like many R & I saw in Spain, heading downhill. There is literally no space to turn around until you get to a widening.
I also think of it as giving my Dharma Protector more space to work with, and certainly you can explain it in terms of karma, which after all is an explanation for everything. It's also an emptiness teaching, showing a direct relationship between your state of mind and what you experience.

In the past I would have spent more time contemplating this, to try to have a better analysis, but now I'm just throwing it out there. Would love to hear what you think.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Latest Health Update: I Am Good

That is, my body is good : ) Last week I came down with a cold: cough, sore throat, additional fatigue, general feeling of lousiness. Then it seemed to develop into a head cold, with that fuzzy-headed feeling. As time went on, though, I developed uncertainty about whether the stuff in my head might be something more serious. I also fell inexplicably, off a level curb onto the level street, as I was headed to my car. I came within a foot or two of bashing my head into my bumper, but fortunately that didn't happen. I was shaken up and puzzled. A fall can be a warning sign of a brain tumor, and I was having some other symptoms, including headaches, which I don't have very often. In fact, on Tuesday morning when I woke up, I had what felt like the same headache, in the same place, as the one that lead to the diagnosis of my brain metastasis. I'll admit I was scared: My joke was that "it was all in my head," hoping that meant it was psychosomatic rather than tumor. My worst fear in terms of cancer is something malign in my head that isn't treatable. I know my brain is part of my body, but am not confident I am a strong enough practitioner for my mind to overcome damage to my brain. It makes me think about the relationship between the brain and the mind.

Wednesday I got an MRI scan of brain , and Dr K called after 8 that evening to tell me to see my radiation oncology, Dr V, to interpret the results. I was initially relieved that there wasn't a tumor, but then realized it could be something worse, like the diffuse leptomeningeal disease the docs discovered in 2011 in my brain a few months after the tumor. Dr V's the one who gave me the targeted brain radiation (cyberknife) after my brain surgery in 2010 and designed the whole-brain radiation to treat the leptomeningeal stuff. She spent a lot of time with us, narrating various slides of my brain MRI, not just the most recent one, but the one before that, plus the ones in 2010 and 2011. Dr V also went over the written report word by word. Her expert conclusion was that my brain is fine. Nothing on any of the MRI to be concerned about. It was so reassuring.

Getting a same-day appointment with her is another story of an obstacle removed by my kind Protector Buddha. I really needed an appointment that day to find out what was going on, but when I called her office, I was told she wasn't in the office until Monday. She had a colleague I could see, however. I must have sounded disappointed, because then the scheduler said, "hold on a minute," and on return said, "Can you get out to Issaquah? She's working there today." You bet! Not only is Dr V highly regarded as a doctor (I think she oversaw the radiation treatments for my neurosurgon, Dr Foltz, who she said would go from a cyberknife treatment to the OR.), but she is a warm human being: She gave me a hug when she arrived and gave both of us hugs when she left.

Also had a CT of my abdomen, which is stable, showing just 2 very small tumors that keep getting smaller, in places that aren't dangerous. Also bloodwork was fine.

I still need to fill you in on installment 3, but also need to catch up with my life, such as figuring out the health-insurance thing.

By right now I gotta run ...

A Good Look at Samsara

When I had a recent health scare (story to come), I realized another way I want to deal with adversity: not just to welcome it, but to thank it for being there, showing honestly the face of samsara, rather than the mask, which fools me into thinking there's some real pleasure here. I don't want to hang out in this impure world. I don't want temporary pleasures to hook me into believing they're what's going to make my life happy.
It's fine to enjoy a tasty meal or a fabulous song, but the danger to is that we naturally get addicted to them, thinking more is even better, and pursue them to the exclusion of meditation, which does take a bit more effort, like walking uphill, rather than following the easy downward trail. 
Buddha taught the middle way, not the ascetic way. We learn ways of transforming what would otherwise be indulgences into something  meaningful.
For example, yesterday after I got the good report about my medical condition, R and I were enjoying some delicious spinach mo-mos (Tibetan dumplings), sitting at our dining table in the sun, and we had to remind each other not to be deceived.
Of course, we know we can offer that enjoyment to Guru Buddha at our heart, and that's become a regular practice, because it's so enjoyable. Isn't it great that joy is considered a power? It helps us sustain our spiritual life. I love hearing about ways to make it fun, like pretending you're just an actor, and the whole world is a set.
Send me your favorite way to make your practice fun, and I'll post the collection here.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Down with a Cold

Just to let you know I have a cough, sore throat, foggy head, fatigue ... so the next installment is likely to be delayed for a few more days.