Wednesday 22 July 2015

Reflections on Living and Dying

Personal reflections from Seemorerocks

Just occasionally you hear something that really resonates. Yesterday was one of those days. On listening to Extinction Radio yesterday morning I encountered Stephen Jenkinson for the first time. 

I had been thinking about things a lot and was getting ready to prepare something for my blog when I heard the interview.

In his interview Stephen told one anecdote that really resonated with me completely. 

He told the story of being rung at home by a nurse who had been involved in palliative care. She told him that she had all the signs of life-threatening illness and was convinced that she was dying of cancer and wanted to walk through this process with the Stephen's help  

She rang him a few days later, absolutely distraught and sobbing because her test results had come back negative.

In the language of the trade this meant "there's nothing wrong with you".

The point was that she was at peace, had clarity, with the idea of dying and when she received the news that "nothing is wrong with you" she felt upset and distraught. 

This is the opposite of what we nornally expect.

I don't know how many times I have been through this, especially with the medical system. 

I don't think it's because I am suicidal or have a strong death wish but that contemplating my own mortality as a result of seriously bad health I have become more comfortable with the idea of the death of the body.

The other thing Stephen said in his interview was "whether you are dealing with serious disease or with deep grief for the death on this planet".

The point is, that for me I am trying to come to terms with both simultaneously and, although I have reached some degree of comfort - (if that is possible) - with both I am encountering denial,not only of the planetary predicament but with the state of my own health as well.

I think every one of us is familiar with the glazing over of eyes and with people changing of the subject whenever we mention abrupt climate change, let alone the prospects of near-term human extinction. Even I avoid mentioning the E word in my conversation with most people). 

I also encounter the same type of discomfort and avoidance of the subject of my own health.

I have become used to hearing "how are you?", "I hope you are getting better", "You are looking well" Then interest suddenly wanes should I actually start to answer the question honestly. 

Sometimes I get sincere suggestions that I just did this or that I just did that I would get better  - despite the fact that I have been working on my own health pretty much full-time for 20 years and have heard about most of the "cures" people are suggesting.

I dare not so much as suggest that this process has as its conclusion the death of the body.

For the life of me I cannot make any distinction between the denial and total unwillingness to speak about the what is a logical conclusion of looking at the sum of human knowledge about abrupt climate change and the destruction by this species of smart ape of the ecosystem that sustains us, on the one hand -  and, whthen on the other 0 the denial that surrounds the decline of my own physical condition.


I have suffered from a degree of rather less than robust health at least since my teenage years when I'm sure I was exposed to pesticides.

Depression during my teens, frequent lack of energy and motivation; digestive problems following a 16 month trip through Asia; developing allergies; – and finally now an Illness that seems to me be eating away at my body.

In my 30s I developed a yoga practise that kept me healthy for a long time -  and I was able to do advanced postures and sit easily in the lotus posture.

I was also a pretty good teacher of yoga.

I started to notice changes when I experienced cramp when sitting on my heels whie teaching classes. This turned,in time, to it being painful to do yoga postures at all – the "sweet pain" of stretching became simply discomfort.

After 20 years' practise I gradually gave the yoga away and developed a new interest – horse riding. 

While I never became a "expert" the photo below will attest to the fact that my horse, Biscuit (a.k.a.Seemorerocks) and I both got huge enjoyment from our time together.

During an accident while riding in the hills the cinch (or girth) on the western sadde snapped I was catapaulted off and I broke my left arm.  

As a result my health took a major turn for the worse and in the last five years has collapsed to the point where sometimes I am able to get up and have a short ride but just as often I have to just sit and watch.

"Negative results"… in the language of the trade that means "there's nothing wrong with you".

I would be sent away for blood tests and the doctor would smile beatifically at me and tell me that the results showed that there was nothing untoward, that there was nothing seriously wrong.

Wasn't that great?

Yeah, that would explain why I feel worse, month by month.

Attempts to explain that my liver was under assault from toxins would elicit blank looks. 

Atttempts to explain that I had been exposed to pesticide toxins would be quickly brushed off.

What are toxins?

The medicines you want to give me are toxins.

Oh, we can't have any of that nonsense (sic)!

Silly me,  I would keep going back to the quacks and try to explain my symptoms – debilitating nausea, dizziness,  exhaustion - and a myriad of other symptoms.

But of what importance is nausea when the test results show everything is OK?

Pain. That's OK because they're good at that. They'd happily give out every type of painkillers available.

Pain for them seems to me almost a sin. But for me it's simply - well - pain.

The problem for me was that os is no pain, no bleeding from the orifices. 

Nausea and dizziness are, it turns out, simply "vague symptoms"

I was told by one doctor that my symptoms were  "just" old age (at the age of 58!)

"Vague symptoms" like nausea or dizziness, it seemed, were, in the eyes of one import from the British NHS , indicative of depressive illness.

I spent some time explaining to this individual my objections to modern medicine coming up with a special category for those with symptoms they can't explain. 

They  all it  somatization symptom disorder.  

Translated into English this means that, anyone with unexplained symptoms or when the tests come back "normal" is mentally ill

After all this, the doctor asked, was I interested in what she thought. Yes, of
course!  She then went on (with such a lovely smile) to ask - had I considered the mental and emotional aspects of this?  

In other words I was depressed. 

Evidently, I didn't suffer from the other possibility - anxiety syndrome.

"Reports of bodily distress and pain, including headaches, characterize a somatoform disorder." -

I was ever so relieved to learn, from reading about this syndrome (or disorder), that I am not a malinger and that I don't deliberately produce, feign, or exaggerate symptoms. 

I am innocent of that.

i am simply mentally ill apparently, in the view of the System that sees itself as perfect.

After any of these exposures to the System, I would, like the lady in the story above, become distraught and, above all, very, very angry when I was told that there was nothing wrong with me.

After being told by this incompetent that I was depressed I vowed not to return to conventional medicine – at least to the previous doctor. 

However, I was summoned back to the medical practise to discuss some blood test results from a visit to the hospital a couple of months earlier. 

I thought maybe the results of time might this time reflect what I knew to be happening within my own body? 

But no I found that I had been assigned a new doctor, a new strategy. At the very least this doctor was honest and straightforward. As I told him that's all I could hope for. 

After examining me he told me that  I was obese and if I went on that way I would become unwell (sic).  

He suggested a diet that eliminated carbohydrates and sugar, as well as having my gum diseчase looked at.

He also promised that if I did these things I would feel at least 50% better.

These were, on the face of it, quite reasonable suggestions - apart from putting the cart before the horse.

More hope dangled in front of me.I took on the diet and fairly quickly lost 4 kg and had my gums into and had one tooth removed because of a gum abscess so I had some expectations of feeling just a little bit better.

But hope turned out to be hopium.

I now have to recognise that, far from feeling better I am more disabled than ever.

Holistic practitioners who treat people with cancer are accused of giving people "false hope".

Was this not false hope?

Or should I conclude that I am mentally ill?


Well, I have long since recognised that none of us come out of this alive and rather than looking for the next cure or insisting on yet another doctor  (when the current one is about as good as they get) -  as was helpfully suggested by one friend of mine,  who always insists on hope against hopeless odds  I think it is better to see things as they are,

All of this has resonance with my other great realisation that on the level of our species there is nothing to be hoped for  We don't come out of this alive - neither individually, nor as a species.

Death comes to us all. 

No civilisation and no species abides forever. 

As the Buddha said, whatever is of the nature to be born is of the nature to die

This is not an easy lesson for ordinary mortals to learn, especially when it challenges the easy and privileged lifestyle we have all become accustomed to.


Coming back to myself - it's always the most important subject, isn't it? - coming to terms with what we as a species are doing to this Living Planet, dealing with the immeasureable grief that this gives rise to - and nobody (or almost nobody), wants to share with me I also find myself having to come to terms with a body that is clearly falling apart.

I have to deal with the denial, (other people's denial,for sure, not mine) that surrounds this.

Most people (except for the psychopaths and sociopaths that rule us) are full of sympathy.

I have had to come to the realisation that empathy is very rare.

In being sympathetic what people are doing is trying to get rid of their own discomfort and suffering without trying to step into the shoes of another, even for a minute.

I find people need to hold on to their own hope.

Hope is more important, it seems than Truth.

But Hope is Wishful Thinking. Optimism is the absense of realism.

When I am dragged away from simply Being and into the realm of thought I often crave for the end of the physical body.

I don' t think, (despite contemplating it), that I would take preremptory action to end this life. 

This would cause immeasurable suffering to at least one significant Other.

But I have little fear of death. 

I remember Woody Allen's words: " It's not death I'm afraid of but dying"

I don't have a religious faith as such but I do have a deep faith that life does not end with the death of the body. There is Life after life - something that remains, something that abides, something we can all Consciousness or the Deathless,or God. 

Even atheistic Buddhism talks of the Deathless.

Personally I rebel against the materialistic notion that our consciousness is nothing more than the sum of electric and chemical processes in the brain. 

For me it simply does not compute,


So I shall continue (at least for now) to stay with the What Is and bear witness to whatever we are served up with in this physical realm and wait patiently for the physical body to wear out.

I you haven't heard it yet here is yesterdays' interview that inspired me to write this.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you, Robin, for sharing your story with all of us. I have also experienced being "put off" or dismissed because other people found my suffering too much to witness. I finally found an honest witness, who helped me immeasurably. I wish that for you, as well. It is a bummer when some of us develop physical ailments that we hadn't expected before old age. I also have a few unsolvable, chronic, physical issues. I think making peace with idea that I was not going to have the life I wanted or expected has helped me more than anything else. I don't know about you, but the betrayals and indifference from those in the "helping professions" have been among my worst experiences. Thank you, again. In solidarity, myrn


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