A brief health update 1-month after my final chemotherapy treatment.
A follow-up to my last video about striking a balance between belonging and being true to yourself.
A few thoughts on vulnerability, sensemaking, and finding your voice at the risk of not belonging.
This year, June 20th marks the summer solstice and June 21st marks the final day of my 5-month journey with chemotherapy. This has been a long voyage, and while my healing will continue for much longer, this feels like an auspicious time to celebrate a transition: individually for me, but also collectively and planetarily for all of us.
To honor this moment, I invite you all to join me for a synchronized meditation this Saturday.
The exact moment of the solstice is 3:43 PM MST, therefore the meditation will be from 3:20 PM – 4:10 PM MST. I will also sit a second time to allow my friends in Asia to participate from 7:00 PM – 7:50 PM MST.
I included a time zone converter below. Even if you are only able to join for five minutes, please take this opportunity to celebrate your own light as you also celebrate the end of treatment with me.
What is the meaning of the Summer Solstice?
What is special about the solstice? It marks the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere and the first day of summer. The solstice is a peak, a climax, a completion, and a beginning all at once. This year it also nearly coincides with a new moon and solar eclipse (only visible in Africa), which have their own powerful influences on us.
Many ancient civilizations dedicated rituals and festivals to the summer solstice. They intuited and realized the significance of this moment. While there are external and astronomical aspects associated with this day, for those spiritually inclined it represents an opportunity for an inner transition.
The Summer Solstice is aligned with the element of fire, passion, will and drive. This is the time to seek right action, to choose to walk in alignment with your beliefs. Now is the time for you to look at the grander scope of your life and spiritual path and take note of what is out of alignment. What doesn’t serve you? What things do you tell yourself or others that are not in line with what you preach? What things do not serve your personal and spiritual growth?
There is also a slow side to the summer solstice – it reminds us of the importance of patience:
There is the slow, sure rhythm of time that events will enter into our lives if we let them. We can’t hurry things, but if we just relax and let go, things will reach their fullness without effort or the striving of ego on our part. The seeds of spring have been planted, we’ve labored over them all spring-now it’s time to let nature take its course.
And finally, there is our relationship with the element of fire. The sun is, literally, all fire. And for nearly 24 hours a day, the northern hemisphere is soaking up all that fierce, intense, electrifying, invigorating, exhilarating energy.
That means there is an absolute abundance of that rich fire energy available for you and me to soak up as well. We can use that energy to inspire up, to uplift us, to energize us. To light our fires and to allow us to embrace our light and share it with others.
How to Participate
Find somewhere to sit quietly without distractions. This can even be done in bed (as you’ll see it’s very late/early in many time zones). Meditate however you wish, connecting first to yourself, then to each other, eventually to the entire planet. No special technique is needed. If you are a regular meditator, choose whatever method helps you connect with your heart and to expand your awareness as wide as possible.
This will not be a guided meditation – we will all simply sit at home in silence at our own pace, absent technology.
Join one or both of these two meditations on Saturday, June 20th (the first one is more potent as it is the exact time of the solstice).
Clicking the link one will take you to an app that will determine the time in your location.
𝐌𝐞𝐝𝐢𝐭𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 # 𝟏
𝟑:𝟐𝟎 𝐏𝐌 – 𝟒:𝟏𝟎 𝐏𝐌 𝐌𝐒𝐓 (June 21st in Asia)
𝐌𝐞𝐝𝐢𝐭𝐚𝐭𝐢𝐨𝐧 # 𝟐
𝟕:𝟎𝟎 𝐏𝐌 – 𝟕:𝟓𝟎 𝐏𝐌 𝐌𝐒𝐓 (June 21st in Europe and Asia)
This weekend I will be fasting from the Internet and social media, so I will not be online until Monday. I wish everyone a beautiful solstice, meditation, and weekend.
I have been grumpy these days. I am hesitating to write today because I feel that writing like this is just a big, fat complaint. However, many of you have said it feels real and vulnerable so I will go for it with this permission! A friend recently told me that she wondered when all of the gratitude and joy towards having cancer would wear off and I would just in the mud and pissed off. Here we are!
This cycle has been particularly difficult – it’s the first one I’ve gone through completely alone and as I mentioned in the last post, I’m struggling with the conundrum of no longer wearing the banner of I’m going through chemo!, as I transition to post-chemo: weak, immune-compromised, and alone. Yesterday I bumped into a friend on my evening walk – it was a man who back in January expressed a serious concern about what was happening with me and a sincere desire to support me as I went through it. I never heard a word from him since. And just two weeks ago a close friend from abroad promised to show up in a specific way during my last cycle and she went completely silent on me. As if I wasn’t already feeling abandoned enough! There is some self-judgment hidden in here too – in this life I have not been a particularly wonderful caretaker or support person, often feeling very unsure of how to show up for others in difficult situations. I realize that these situations are reflections of the others’ situation and state and not necessarily something intrinsic in me. I have learned a lot from being in the role of needing help and support that will eventually empower me if and when I am in the role of the giver. Two points come immediately to mind:
1) Genuinely inquire into what the person needs in the current moment and don’t assume that you know. Today’s needs may be different than yesterdays.
2) Be honest about your boundaries and abilities to give and support and don’t make promises that may be difficult to keep
This week I also began asking myself: why am I focusing on these particular cases other than the abundant support that I have been receiving? The answer is that I’m a little depressed. It’s hard to admit this to myself as I don’t think I’ve experienced this outside of a day or two or in acute situations like a breakup or sudden loss. I’m trying to explore this space with curiosity and wonder, as it is something that has affected many people very close to me, family in particular. As anyone with depression can tell you, that cup looks half-empty way more frequently than it does half-full!
Yesterday I took the step of reaching out to the social worker at my doctor’s office who directed me to a series of support groups and therapists covered under my insurance plan. I am already in the process of initiating contact with a few therapists to get his process moving.
The other thing that I’m pondering right now is something that I’ve always struggled with in life, getting out of the way of my own past. What I mean by this is that much of what we are doing in life is a sort of performative dance where we are creating a presentation package to the outside world. When the previously offered presentation package (mask, ego, shell, whatever you want to call it) conflicts with the present-moment, who I am right now, a dissonance is created. I will call out my friend Jessica because we have laughed about this many times – she’s known me for almost 20 years and in the beginning, I was a corporate guy, in a long-term monogamous relationship, generally rather Boulder status-quo and over the years a lot of shifted for me and my attitudes and practices in life started changing rather dramatically. Many times Jessica would say “Keith I just can’t believe it!” when it came to some recent experience I had that conflicted with that early 2000’s Keith presentation package.
This dissonance has never been more apparent – of course, none of us are who we were 20 or even 5 years ago, but in my current situation, I can barely recognize the Keith of just a few years ago with all the changes that have happened in my life, to my body, and in my heart. Maybe there is a request in here. Mostly to myself, but also to you, dear reader: I’m simply asking to be met anew, for this current moment version of Keith to be given space to be present and alive, with all of his beauties, flaws, mysteries, and idiosyncrasies.
BTW, the support wall is still growing. This, I am VERY GRATEFUL for:
Last Friday, I walked out of the Healing Center in a rather anticlimactic way. It was 5 pm, and that was that. No more drips, no more drugs with the word toxic in them, or with hazardous materials stickers on their bag. There were no balloon drops or pizza parties – only a few nurses preparing for their weekend and a couple of patients completing their late afternoon treatments. Fortunately for me, one of these patients was Carol, a friend I bonded with several months ago over our common love for stuffed animals (mine is a little lion named Kiki and hers is a pink rabbit named Phillip).
Carol’s husband treated us to lunch from a local Italian restaurant and we caught up on our trials and tribulations over the past months. While my process has been difficult, Carol had the additional test of a major surgery amid her chemo treatments. I am recalling 5 months ago when I was convinced that major thoracic surgery was in store for me and how overwhelming that was. I am beyond amazed at how well her spirit and heart and body were handling everything.
She has invited me to host a joint party with her in September, once she is clear of chemo and hopefully pandemic restrictions will allow for us to get out families and friends together in some sort of life celebration! We discussed how critical it has been for both of us to make future plans for mental sanity, even with the knowledge that pandemic or health or unknowns may force the need to cancel those plans.
As for me, this has not been my best cycle ever as I wrestle with some serious pain. Interestingly, I seem to choose to write whenever I am in the midst of this. Writing is a good outlet from the body.
My pain level has been 9/10 since Saturday night as the Neulasta shot continued to bring an increased pain threshold with each cycle. I will get through this knowing that this will only last a few days and that this is my final experience with this sadistic drug! I have serious sympathy for folks with chronic pain. My heart goes out to those who deal with pain where there is no clear end in sight – I can imagine how this can potentially take someone down the direction of a depression.
Emotionally, I have been flat, tired, sad. I have been crying a decent amount and in general feeling bad about myself. On one side there is a feeling as if I should be celebrating. Like I said above, chemo is over! And yet, and yet, and yet… this week marks the lowest and most vulnerable point in my journey back to health. The accumulation of 18 weeks of treatment amid this global pandemic of fear and panic has taken its toll. On me and those in my life. It has been a long road, and unfortunately for this journey, I’m still in the middle of that journey, not as close to the end as much as I want to believe.
I frequently notice a strong desire to return to normal ASAP – as if next week I can begin to put all of my plans from January back into play. I watch my mind in its better moments take off into creativity and excitement and aliveness.
I notice this feeling of being left behind. Even though everyone had to slow down for lockdown, my fears and insecurities have relegated me to a time-out corner, where I watch as all my friends have fun without me. I know, that this is not true, and within the time-out is an incredible opportunity. The phrase ‘reinvent myself’ comes to mind but that is too clique – it’s more like an opportunity for a deep examination of my energies, attention, and intentions. My thoughts wander off in many directions here, not excluding a remote cabin in the woods…
A tear in my fabric continues to remerge with a focus around meaning its relevance to life, to my life. I’ve written about this in the past and will come back here again soon.
I think its time for vegan ice cream and a movie.
Last night I finished a rather thick and dense book by Ken Wilber called The Religion of Tomorrow. All 806 pages. I dove in two months ago upon a recommendation from my friend Bodhi. I’ve been generally interested in Ken Wilber’s teaching and work around Integral philosophy, spirituality, psychology, etc.… the Integral Center used to be a thriving institution in Boulder. However, I sadly missed participating much during its prime years as I lived in Thailand. The Authentic Relating movement that I am now more intimately connected with had its roots here… as did many other beautiful offerings.
Part of my logic of tackling such an academic project was to combat the expected and very real chemo-brain that comes with extended chemotherapy treatment. Netflix series would not be the solution! Chemo-brain is a catch-all for a variety of brain-relating malfunctions such as:
- Difficulty concentrating on a single task
- Problems with short-term memory; forgetting details of recent events
- Feeling mentally “slower” than usual
- Confusing dates and appointments
- Misplacing objects
- Fumbling for the right word or phrase
And yes, if you ask anyone who has spent time with me the past three months, these factors have been present in various degrees. Similar to avoiding issues with old age, an antidote to such malfunctions is exercising the brain: crosswords, reading, playing games, etc. Hence this book…
The premise of The Religion of Tomorrow is that the great religions of the world are at a crossroads. First, Wilber commends the major paths for helping countless individuals awake to the astonishing reality of the true nature of themselves and the universe. Then he explains how, through centuries of cultural accretion and focus on myth and ritual as ends in themselves, this core insight has become obscured, and religions risk disappearing along with their powerful awakening potential for individuals.
Wilber argues that for the great religions to survive into the future while remaining faithful to that original spiritual vision, they must incorporate the extraordinary number of scientific truths learned about human nature in just the past hundred years–for example, about the mind and brain, emotions, and the growth of consciousness. The original practitioners of the great religions were simply unaware of and thus were unable to include in their meditative systems.
What got me very excited about the book was that Wilber declares in the beginning that he would take Buddhism as an example, partly because it is the main religion that he has studied and practiced over the years, and also because in many ways, it is poised to take what he calls ‘a fourth turning’. The third turning he argues happened almost 1000 years ago. Buddhism is also the religion I have studied the most formally myself.
Wilber demonstrates how his comprehensive Integral Approach–which is already being applied to several world religions by some of their adherents, can avert a cultural disaster of unparalleled proportions: the utter neglect of the glorious upper reaches of human potential by the materialistic postmodern worldview. Additionally, he shows how we can apply this approach to our personal spiritual practice.
For those who have studied Integral before, much of this book will be repetitive. Wilber has a very circular way of writing which is great for learning but he does chew up a lot of pages to reiterate certain points. He spends most of his time reviewing States and Stages (hundreds of pages). Wilber writes that states and structures of consciousness are two of the most important psycho-spiritual elements that humans possess, each having their own development spectrum. States, states of consciousness, or spiritual experience are those that the religions have explored for thousands of years. Wilber refers to these as the WAKING UP process.
Stages or stages and structures of consciousness is what Wilber considers spiritual intelligence and necessary for GROWING UP.
Oversimplifying greatly here, Wilber argues that the great traditions are not taking into account the modern developments in structures of consciousness that humanity and individuals have developed over the past hundreds of years. And because of this, a spiritual master may have achieved the highest state of nondual consciousness possible, but be stuck in a lower stage of development and manifest that nondual spiritual religion through an ethnocentric or mythic worldview. Wilber refers many times to the challenges and problems that arose as many highly state developed East Asian Buddhist teachers began integrating with a western society that was more evolved from a stage perspective (views on race, sex, etc.) and the confusion and pain this often created.
Overall, I greatly enjoyed this book – for me it served as in introduction to Integral teachings: quadrants, levels, lines, states, etc. I also appreciated how Wilber can quickly move between very academic and scholarly language and then suddenly be guiding a meditation on nonduality. I had some inspirational moments of reading this in the middle of the night in chemo and steroid-induced mental states.
I also appreciate gaining a new understanding of the stages of consciousness and their relationship to spiritual development. Wilber shed light on a number of confusing situations I have experienced where highly realized (states) teachers were manifesting their teachings and actions from a lower vantage point (stage) of realization. It helps remind me of the criticality of taking a more holistic approach to development in life in general (cognitive, interpersonal, moral, spiritual, emotional, somatic, etc.). High states are not enough.
Finally – Wilber tangentially dives into teachings on chakras, subtle and causal bodies, shadow work, culture wars, state and stage dysfunctions, and a number of other areas that are definitely worth a read.
One of my main disappointments of this book is that Wilber never actually reaches the point of discussing how the fourth turning of Buddhism will manifest – after addressing this in the introduction and promising that he will use Buddhism as an example, he simply never returns to it. My hunch is that after 800 pages he decided it warranted another book, which I just discovered has been written (The Fourth Turning), somehow in the years before The Religion of Tomorrow…
I am midway through cycle 5 – this cycle could easily be titled Keith dissolution. I notice myself disappearing at times- hours and days blend together in a strange array of vaguely interrelated activities. I keep hearing this term and discussion around ‘the new normal’ in the news. I’m trying to be careful not to make this state my ‘new normal’, but at times it feels like it may be. Now, three months into chemotherapy it feels like I am getting used to it and the people in my life are getting used to it. I’ve been poor at communicating, at staying connected, and I am noticing a desire to put all of my energies into a sort of self-preservation mode. I feel closed, disconnected, less open than I did in the early phases of my healing. This morning as I glanced in the mirror I realized I have been avoiding looking at myself or taking photographs (despite all the feedback about how well I rock a bald head). Yet again, this points to the intimate body-mind connection. This is no surprise at this point in my treatment. Many, in similar situations suffer from pretty severe depression as a combination of the physical and life changes along with the side effects of the various drugs. I do notice occasional depressive thoughts, however, I would consider my lower moments more like numbness or disconnection than depression.
I should share that I am writing this at my nadir point, where I am at my lowest blood counts, energy levels, and therefore mood. Only ONE more of these cycles, thank God. Checking my HRV app over the past months I see that it is exactly this Saturday, eight days after chemo where my vitals and energy begin to turn around. An interesting observation is that over the last couple of cycles I’ve also noticed a strong uptick in my sexual impulses and thoughts around this day. I find this a remarkable aspect of biology – despite being nearly dead physically, as soon as the energy shifts towards more strength, the ability, and impulse to procreate, along with the hormones and thoughts, follows. During my chemotherapy I have been observing a strict sexual continence, a topic I notice is sorely missing in discussions around healing and health, and men’s sexual health in general. This concept I will unpack post-chemo when I look back and share and analyze the different factors and choices I made to support myself during this period.
Allie has remained with me in these weeks, despite the difficulties of trying to share a space with a man going through significant physical, emotional, and mental swings daily. I am incredibly grateful for her willingness to sacrifice her health and sleep at times to support me. She has postponed her other plans stayed longer than we had anticipated as it was too difficult for either of my parents to travel here with the pandemic still rolling. I’m very grateful for her friendship and presence!
For now, I look ahead to (hopefully) a better week and soon the conclusion of my chemotherapy. My last treatment will run June 1-6 and the sixth, and final cycle will conclude on June 21. At one level, it feels like forever since I began, at another level time has passed quickly. I am beginning to plan and prepare for the shift from conventional to holistic treatment. The alternative and holistic care center I was visiting has begun a gradual reopening, allowing me to receive acupuncture again. I’m in the process of scheduling appointments with an integrative oncologist, kinesiologist, nutritionist, massage therapist, etc. The healing will continue in one fashion or another well beyond June.