Chapter 53 Monday. Monday.

Chapter 53

Monday. Monday.

Can’t trust that day.

The Mommas and Papas.

Expect the unexpected.  Plan for the worst.  You can’t force the issue.  The best laid plans of mice and men. The meaning of these tried and true homilies boils down to a simple truth.  Try as you want, you can’t control what is going to happen in life.

As per the norm, she who always has a busy week was out the door early by 7:30 am that Monday morning, leaving me to contemplate my ongoing quest for perfection in my approach to huevos rancheros.  Recent developments included a two-pan method guaranteeing not only a crispy tortilla but evenly melted cheese and well cooked eggs.  This morning’s version was stellar, topped with fresh cilantro and green spring onions picked that morning in ze garden and a dynamite roast garlic salsa made the night before.

This long-awaited day started with the absolute best of intentions. I approached the end of this period of almost constant home-stay with reverence and humility, eager to use these last few hours to look back one more time on the past 18 months of inner work and the learnings that I experienced. The goal was to spend the day in a sequence of complex meditations that probed my life, my strengths and weaknesses.  To examine what had been accomplished during this time, a very tall order.   So before the final journey to the mancave, there was a need to get organized. I sat at the dining room table, coffee cup steaming(organic East Timor hard to find but worth it), writing out a list of subjects to cover that day.  They were quite a group.

Expectations and how to avoid them.

Acceptance of limits.

Humility.

Friendship.

Death.

Anger.

Violence.

Failure.

Fear.

Obsession.

Choice.

Career.

Joy.

Parenthood.

Failure.

Success.

Why do Alfa Romeo engines always burn oil?

I couldn’t resist that last one it truly is unanswerable.

At that point I stopped.  I read over the list and laughed.  There was no way to cover that kind of ground in a day of even the best work much less in a week.  The only hope was to attack this list as if writing a business plan and that meant to prioritize. Didn’t work either.

After spending 15 fruitless minutes moving the subjects around and around in order of importance I gave up.  It would be easier to say fuck it and celebrate the end of this era by not meditating.  Go out, enjoy a glorious early spring day and get some gardening done.  Ride the bike.  Walk the hound.   But that seemed wrong.  Disrespectful of the process and myself.   There needed to be some kind of closure and that wasn’t going to happen sitting around wondering.  Who knew what might happen, there was only way to find out. It was back to the cave for the final session.

Opening the door once again and looking into the mancave I felt sad, almost nostalgic.  Staring at the bright purple cushun where I had spent so much time and the variety of guy posters (sports and music subjects, nothing changes) taped to the walls in a feeble attempt at decoration, it all suddenly seemed strange, foreign.  Yet if any knowledge was acquired from this work, it is that there is no gain found in sitting around worrying about what has already happened.  It is so much better to sit down and get started working to clarify what was learned and seal some of the knowledge before the next phase of life began.

After crossing the room, I sat down on the cushun one more time and began the last meditation with mixed emotions.   This had been a bittersweet period of my life. There is no doubt that if I had kept working it would never have happened. There is no way I would have chosen to spend the time I had engaged in manful meditation.  To make things worse for an overly analytic and fact driven mind, the results were not tangible.  There were no benchmarks, no red line issues, no defined process to judge by.  No, the value of this unexpected and unique experience lie in the pearls in these oysters not in harvesting them.  Even that analogy was far too judicious to sum up the strangeness I had experienced. Ceasing to earn a substantial wage and looking for things to do to kill excesses of time was so painful.

But looking hard within revealed what pearls they were over the course of that morning. Several thoughts emerged over the next 20 minutes of calm sitting.  The first one was that wasn’t the last meditation.  It was the final mediation in a sequence and the end of a period, not the end of meditation.  Meditation would be back.  That was a relief.  Changed the outlook of the morning a full 180 degrees.

The next realization was that what was learned would stay with me. With any sense of discipline (always my strong suit) the practice would continue to grow in the future.  MM was a base to work from during the next phase of life which, no doubt, would have its own sequences of ups and downs.

The core message of the morning was that the best solution to finding a meaningful meditation, and perhaps life itself, was not to force it. Learning not to try so hard was so damn antithetical to my very nature, always having been taught that trying hard was the key to success.  Now, it was time to back off of the pedal and feed the engine easily, not flood it (remember once upon a time there were carburetors and you could do that).  Easier said than done, but a good goal to carry forward.

Feeling centered I relaxed.  Then, without reason, my mind wandered off into a sequences of virtual voyages centered on an unexpected subject.  A celebration of the environment, a series of grand visions of great public places both inside and outside.  It certainly wasn’t a serious meditation as hoped for, but it felt good and there was no reason to fight it.  It was fun and it was easy to jump right in.  So much for discipline.

This part of the last meditations began with an image.  A llama.  A beautiful large white animal with curly fur perched on a mountain top at Machu Piccu in Peru.  He was staring out at the world and I stared at him.  No one and nothing moved.  We stayed there together for a long while.  Neither of us blinked.  I saw the green hills, the ancient outlines of a powerful civilization.  Felt the sun pushing through the clouds that danced across powerful mountain peaks one after another as far as the eye could see.

The images continued with a sequence of great public squares and buildings. My vision soared around the world carried by the wings of imagination.  They flew to an empty San Marcos Square on a winter’s morning, a sole figure, an old man in a business suit wandering across the brown stones in the morning in the company of hundreds of pigeons flying overheard.  A massive crowd came hurrying by, thousands of faces of all ages, races and financial means, pulsing with life, surrounded by the ever-changing massive neon signs, lights images and TV screens that surround Times Square which then unexpectedly morphed into Piccadilly Circus.  On without pause to metal stairs climbing up surrounded by the ornate lattice work of the chocolate brown Eiffel Tower looking out at the Champ De Mars on past Ecole Militaire and Montparnasse to the totality of the city of lights seeming to stretch forever.  The stairs continued up and up but the build, design and materials transformed into the geometrical patterns of the Alhambra in Granada Spain.

The speed of the vision accelerated flying back home, dipping in and out of the rotunda at San Francisco City Hall, the bleachers at Pacific Bell Park and then out again into the cave and by the drawings at Lascaux and on to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.  On, on they went to Aztec Pyramids outside of Cuernevaca and then into the Plaza Central of Mexico City in the middle of a massive political protest alighting again in the middle of the world’s largest boulevard, the grand Julio 9 in Buenos Aires watching traffic fly by.  It became dizzying.  It was time to slow down.  It did.

I took 20 long breaths.  Then I received a final vision that afternoon.   I still don’t know how or where my visions came from or why.  They were quite a group; starting with a floating hamburger in a Boston hotel room and continuing through burning bar-b-ques, the violence of my father, my grandmother’s cookie dough, a perfect peach and it’s visual cousin a perfect tush, the birth of my son and a spinning beer bottle.  There would be one more today.

This one was different from the start.  It had an incredibly grand and quite imposing entrance. It began with an all-white flash, bright almost blinding and pure energy.  For a second I though I was having a stroke, but a quick inventory of symptoms found everything in order.  The white light stayed.  Was this a preview of death?  The afterlife? If so, why now? Then a tiny circle began to form in the absolute center of vision.   It was brown.  No yellow.  It grew in size until it dominated the room.  This was no circle.   It was not yellow.  It was gold.  It was a ring.  Then I recognized it.   It was really surprising.  It was a wedding ring.

Without delay I shot back to a moment 30 years ago when a much skinnier and younger version of myself stood in a city hall in small village in Northern France with their communist mayor and his assistant who bore an uncanny resemblance to Miss Piggy, adding to the already surreal situation.  I stood in this mediation, dressed in a just too small tux looking in her eyes (blue as ever) and putting the ring on she who became my wife at that moment’s finger for the first time.  I was getting married again.

I stopped for a second and wondered. Was this a meditation or just a memory?  Did it matter?

Before proceeding with the meditation itself, I experienced a feeling of anxiety.  After all, marriage is a huge subject and the basis for so many decisions that follow in life that are not taking center stage at that this instant.  Some anxiety about this decision is normal.  Not feeling anxiety wouldn’t be.  Anxiety about the moment and equal amounts of anxiety of what will happen afterwards.  There will be no other day quite like this one in life.

The meditation returned.  I take a long moment in the meditation to remember how she looked (very pretty and very thin), her hair (very blonde), what she was wearing (an elegant well cut white dress with a bright blue sash).  What was I thinking at that moment?  Can’t remember. Can I remember who handed me the ring?  Yes, my brother-in-law. How did he look?  Skinny like me.  Happy.  Who was on stage?  I can’t picture it. I do remember the look in her eyes and the commitment in our hearts and the burning sensation in the pit of my stomach.

I take some time out breathe deeply for a few moments before returning to it one last time.  I bring her hand back into mine and feel its warmth as I did that day.  I get the ring out where everyone can see it and slide it calmly and gently over her finger again. I stop, repeat the image, breathe deeply and dwell in the purity of the instant.  The mediation ends there and I immediately awaken.  Sun is pouring into the mcave, spring is everywhere.  I rise in balance.

Lunch follows.  Nothing fancy, leftover minestrone to be precise.  After I finish eating I am ready to hit the cave again.  But as I approach the door to the mancave I stop.  Simply put, I realize that I have had enough for now.  Time for the yang to this ying, the outdoors. I  celebrate spring walking the irrepressible hound into the hills.  As I do I reflect again upon the time spent in MM.  I am perplexed by these questions.  Just what is a meditation?  What is a reflection?  What is a memory?  What is the difference? Does it matter? Was I meditating when I thought about our wedding and the countless subjects covered in the sessions?  Or was this just a bunch of memories strung together to create a sort of personal self-guided rehab? Were these my personal days of awe?  Days of awe that took18 months instead of 10 days and what book was I inscribed in?  Or was this just a crutch, a way to pass time?

Does it matter?  No answer emerged.  Some riddles aren’t there to be solved.

Continuing up the hills and looking out at the bay sparkling in the distance it was a perfect moment to look back. The practice of manful meditation was a gift. It came out of nowhere for no apparent reason.  Now it is clear to me why it did. I had been waiting for it all along.  Any remaining vestiges of doubt that I made the wrong decision by leaving behind an exciting but carcinogenic career that had nurtured me while it was destroying me were gone.

I am confident that I will maintain the practice and that it will change as I start to work again. What was sustenance will now become maintenance and that is good. It is a living practice, not fixed but fluid.

Returning home to the safety of our overgrown cottage I put the leash away and fed big foot a duck breast chew treat.  She is grateful, gleeful as she chews it down.  Following her, walking through the kitchen I feel a powerful surge of appreciation and gratitude pulse through me.

I am grateful for so much. I am grateful that I didn’t fall off of my emotional bicycle pushed by the devils within that tempt us all.  No, this devil is not red.  He wears Armani, smells good, is handsome as hell and hides his tail tucked into the front of his pants just like Mick Jagger used to use a cucumber to emphasize his own pack.  He is a pro.  He is seductive. He wants me to ride faster and faster turn tighter and tighter until I fall. He could have easily overwhelmed me.  Instead I found my center. I didn’t lose balance.  I did not give in to my personal demons for this could have been a period of excess instead of growth.  MM was my personal road map to a better life.

I am comforted in the power of an internal drive within me that guides toward better things and a full life in the face of strangeness.

Looking back there are no great narratives in this phase of my life.  No great story line and thank goodness for that.  I didn’t get in a major car wreck or fall of my bike and no one got sick. The cancer I experienced was a disturbance to my life not a fatal occurrence, something that could be overcome.  There were no disasters.

There is another reason why excess didn’t overcome me.  I am fortunate.  Fortunate to have the power of choice.  Not to be torn apart by the economic realities that have devastated many men greater than I.  To have a home a family and a loving world full of friends and acquaintances to nurture me and provide sparks where needed.   Some money in the bank (even as we live in deficit, spending more than we earn, just like the country).  People who listen to me and give me advice as needed.   To live with a moral center and the strength to persevere on the days where it would have been easier to just say screw it.

I was at peace. There was only one thing left to do. It was time to cook dinner.  The choice screamed at me. Lasagna. A great lasagna starts with fresh pasta.  It changes the dish in so so many ways.  For one thing you don’t have to cook the pasta first.  That alone is worth it, saying nothing about the improvement in taste and texture.  That being said, here is how:

Get a large baking dish.  Heat the oven to 375.

Ingredients:

Basics:

6 sheets fresh pasta.

1 lb mozzarella cheese

½ lb sharper cheese, say provolone.

1 can chopped tomatoes.  Italian if possible.

1 bottle of pasta sauce.

Some grated or shredded parmesan.

Fillings.

This is a matter of choice.

They can be vegetarian or meat.  The idea is to have 3 of 5 layers be filling, two of tomatoes and cheese only.  It creates a diversity of textures and taste.  For vegetarian I like sautéed chard or spinach.  For meat, browned lean ground meat or sliced browned sausage of choice sliced thin.

Put a small amount of olive oil and water in the bottom of the baking dish.  Place the first layer of pasta.  Cover with 2/3 of the canned tomatoes.  Place a second layer.  Cover with filling and ½ of mozzarella cheese.  Place a third layer.  Cover with the second filling and the balance of the mozzarella.  Fourth layer.  More filling.  The sharper cheese.  Fifth layer.  Cover with tomato sauce and the last 1/3 of the canned tomatoes.  Final layer.  Brush with olive oil and any leftover sauce sprinkle with parmesan.

Here is the key, seal the pan tight with foil. This allows the pasta to cook as the dish steams. After ½ hour, take the foil off, increase the heat to 400. Cook 10 more minutes.  You will know if it looks done, it depends upon the density of the agreements.   If so, serve, if not back to the oven until it bubbles….

Making the meal was a blast.  My concentration was clear  and the dish turned out as harmonious as I felt. Unfortunately she who is never on time on a Monday came home late. No, even though it was back to work tomorrow there was no time to celebrate, it was just another Monday night.  Enjoy dinner in front of the TV, stay away from to much of El Rojo Forte (a very good Oregon Pinot AGAIN and tough not to have that third glass) and suffer through another Giant loss which stung even more after Sunday’s collapse in Los Angeles, wasting a good pitching effort from Zito.  Maybe he would make a come back.  There is nothing like a 10th inning loss after coming back to tie it in the 9th to leave a sour taste in your mouth.  This team just had no identity.  Another fucked year loomed.  My life was changing, it sure didn’t look like they were.

Tomorrow there would be change.

Songs of change:

Redemption Song.  Bob Marley.

A Change Is Gonna Come.  Sam Cooke.  Or Bobby Womack.  Or  Otis Redding.

Changes.  David Bowie

World In Changes.  Dave Mason.

Change the Lock.  Tom Petty or Lucinda Williams.

I Feel A Change Coming On.  Bob Dylan.

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