Solitude

I cherished the solitude of the occasional walk on the beach between Anchor Point and Homer—nineteen miles of vertical cliffs overhanging the mysterious rocks, tide pools, beached seaweed, and sixteen-foot tides. I had to time the ten-hour walk carefully to assure there was at least some walkable beach the whole way to Homer.

beach-between-anchor-point-and-homer

I thought the rocks mysterious because I couldn’t fathom how so many of different colors and compositions, and sizes and shapes, and in unlikely combinations, seemed strewn so haphazardly by an agent unseen. I imagined they had been spewed over the eons by the two volcanoes across Cook Inlet that I could see on clear day, Illiamna to the northwest and Augustine to the southwest. I later learned the movement of glaciers over millions of years had pushed surface debris hundreds of miles from any direction and left them all mixed together here along the shores of Cook Inlet.

beach-alaska

I loved these rocks. My associates at work, I knew, thought me slightly mad, having collected and placed interesting rocks throughout my office as objets d’art. The large black stone which I temporarily placed on the boulder in the above picture was the largest I collected, weighing 90 pounds.

Yes, I was mad—was not quite with the regular world, or, rather, not with the world I left behind in California. The solitude I enjoyed in this sparsely-populated region of Alaska had brought me to a new mental space. One grows both smaller and larger in Alaska. Smaller, because the landscape is beyond a human’s ability to perceive it whole; larger, because each person seems to count for something more in such a sparsely-populated place, than in the frightful, crowded urbs and suburbs rural Alaskans have left behind. I felt at home in a place in which I was not born, in which I owned only my personal goods, where I had no family, and where the people were individualistic and private.

I was at home with myself.

To emphasize the value I found in being by myself, especially along this beach, I tell friends a few short stories from my travels along it.

I once saw an eagle dive into the surf to catch a salmon and carry aloft to its aerie on the cliffs above.

I once failed to time the walk properly and had to navigate between the water and the cliff, between successive incoming waves of the rising tide.

I found shapes sculpted by wind and water and unknown powers.

Homer Beach-03.jpg

On my last day along this beach I saw two mature eagles with their young one, who looked larger than they because of its fluffiness, guiding their offspring by flying at her sides, keeping their wings under hers as she wobbled in the air on, perhaps, her first flight.

And, finally, I recount to friends how I never felt alone if I could see another person on the beach, even a mile or more away. I was startled once to suddenly see a distant someone behind me. I hurried forward to get around a bend in the cliff so I could rid that person from my view. It took me a while to recover from the intrusion.

inner voice is quashed
by clamor of others’ thoughts
solitude grows ears

Regarding Belief, in the Realm of the Religious or Spiritual

I do not disbelieve in anything. To believe in anything is to shut out all the things that are not within the belief system. I have a notion that Jesus, the Buddha, and others, had glimpses of “The Great Everything” as I like to say. These two may have dwelt in that infinitude in some manner not available to most of us and saw the greatness of this “everything.” In any case, all these words and ideas and structures are man-made in his attempt to understand the mystery of it all.  Man is part of the everything and cannot stand outside of it, and outside of himself, to see it. It will always remain a mystery. I accept this mystery, and delight in whatever little glimpses of it I may occasionally have, typically while hiking alone.

I am not concerned about conversion by others who have approached me with this in mind because there is nothing to convert from. I live, mostly, in an open system with no philosophical boundaries. I have practical boundaries, however, for purposes of living with honor—within my own values—and effectively in the practical world.

It is one’s choice to be in a closed (defined) system or an open (evolving) one. There is no one system better than another, objectively (that is, from the standpoint of a disinterested observer, whoever she may be, and if she may be). Some people do not choose either way and merely drift, unconsciously—and who is to say this is not a Way, also? (G.I. Gurdjieff fought against this Way).

I think it fruitless, however, to try to apply rational thought and processes to a subject which is primarily of a non-rational (not irrational) nature. Belief and feeling are neither measurable nor manageable as things. Therefore, there is no disputing another’s beliefs.

Which brings to mind the question of the proper use of the verb ‘to believe’ and its derivatives: when is it acceptable for a scientist to use the verb ‘believe?’

“Healthcare,” Health, Sickness: A Brief Essay on Our Confusion in These Matters

Lotus Flower (lotusflowerimages.com/)

Lotus Flower (lotusflowerimages.com/)

In the western world we have dissected ourselves into separate, sometimes disconnected parts: mind/body/spirit, most pertinently. We treat our bodies as we do our automobile: we maintain our body to some or no degree and when it fails (or we worry about it failing) we ‘go to the doctor’ to get it diagnosed and fixed. We fail to see that our values, our assumptions about the spiritual realm (for those who accept and dwell on it to any degree), our assessments of ourselves as worthy and useful creatures (or the opposite) are all part of our ‘health.’

Genetic determinants and externally caused accidents are of another matter: chance.

You know these things, but we are trapped in our culture to think and talk as if the mind and body and spirit were separate entities. The problems of body are addressed by ‘doctors’; the problems of the mind are addressed by psychologists or psychiatrists or counselors with other appellations; the spirit is the province of the church or coven or whatever place is currently attractive or fashionable.

‘Health’ is generally seen an attribute of the body or mind, mind-health being seen as affecting body-health but seldom the other way around. Spiritual health is seen as a private matter and outside the realm of the other two ‘parts.’

Outside the workings of chance, I see spiritual health as fundamental to general health. But there I go separating us into parts. I can’t help it.

In any case, we have no clear, agreed-upon definition of “health.”

Sunflower (flickr.com/photos/lucaspost/)

Sunflower (flickr.com/photos/lucaspost/)

Our language is a problem in these matters. We are told language is an integral part, a determinant perhaps, of our culture and the way, therefore, we perceive the universe and ourselves in it (as if we could stand outside of something in which we are embedded).

“All words are lies.” I wish I knew whom I was quoting. I sometimes attribute this to G.I. Gurdjieff, but I’ll say it is mine until I find another, older and verifiable source.

It’s a significant problem for me as a writer to know that no word or words can capture and communicate the reality of direct experience.

Which gets me back to the words ‘health,’ and particularly, ‘healthcare,’ a mash-up I detest. It’s a marketing invention.

Until we define our terms (e.g., healthcare) in simple words we all can agree upon, we are going to be crosswise of each other when we go forward to manage ‘healthcare’ or to guarantee ‘proper’ or ‘adequate’ or ‘comprehensive healthcare’ or ‘universal healthcare.’

I enjoyed managing hospitals and the business affairs of medical groups. I was in the ‘sick business.’ This concept is so much more tangible and generally comprehensible and, I will argue, more useful than ‘healthcare’ or even ‘health.’

[I have ignored here, for the sake of brevity, the vital role of public health disciplines and entities in preventing sickness and accident in the general population].

Chambered Nautilus (seasky.org/)

Chambered Nautilus (seasky.org/)

I once worked with a physician who was my own doctor, and a friend and colleague in the management of a county hospital. If I remember correctly (and I may be conflating my memory of him with memories of other wise physicians) , he said something like this: “of 100 patients whom I may treat, 10 will get better because of my intervention, 10 will get worse, and 80 will get better mostly by themselves, through time and their own processes.” He (or another physician) said, also, something like: “the effective physician is like a ‘witch doctor,’ addressing not only the physical body, but the other attributes of mind and spirit, including the family and social circumstances.”

Another way of interpreting the two above, paraphrased quotes is: the healing mostly comes from within; the physician helps the subject recognize and effectively use his/her own intrinsic healing powers. Medicines help as allies, not the main ‘cure’.

Back to the use of words and concepts.

We are asking our physicians to fix us, but we are not recognizing that the ‘fix’ lies, ultimately, within (again, excepting accidents and other workings of chance). Whether this should be labeled a ‘spiritual’ approach is irrelevant and possibly not helpful, because it tends to narrow our vision through the preconception of what ‘spiritual’ means, if anything. Some things can be fixed, or course, like broken bones and diseased tissue. I am speaking here of those things the general physician sees most commonly in his or her patients:

The ten most common health complaints

Erasistratos discovers the illness of Antiochus, son of the King of Syria

Erasistratos discovers the illness of Antiochus, son of the King of Syria

1. cough

2. throat

3. itchy or rashy skin

4. vision problems

5. knees

6. back

7. stomach

8. ear ache, infection

9. hypertension

10. depression

Judge for yourself if you may really need a physician or someone to fix any the above you may encounter; or, whether you, and time, can take care of things.

Slow down.

Treat yourself with respect.

Drink lots of good water.

See a physician, of course, when you feel the need for guidance; I certainly do.

Words

"All words are lies:" (possibly George I. Gurdjieff, depicted here)

“All words are lies:” (possibly George I. Gurdjieff, depicted here)

Words, Words, Words. My head is filled with words; my mouth issues streams of words; my pencil scribbles across the page … toward what end? Or is it just a compulsion, nervous or otherwise…or no-wise, given that “nervous” is just another word used to approximate something innate and ineffable?

“To name something is to destroy it:” (unknown)

I wrote this to myself a few years ago:

Words are all I have.
Words are my sword and my shield.
Words, written and spoken, are the tools of my work.

Pity me, while you ponder what others have written on the subject:

CONFUCIUS SAID:

If words are not true, concepts are not right.
If concepts are not right, morality and the arts do not thrive.
If morality and the arts do not thrive, justice miscarries.
If justice miscarries, the nation does not know where to put its feet and hands.
Therefore, disorder in words must not be tolerated.
___

Joseph Conrad

Joseph Conrad

Words, as is well known, are the great foes of reality.
—Joseph Conrad in Under Western Eyes

Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.
—Rudyard Kipling

Words are dwarfs, but examples are giants.
—Swiss-German Proverb

So, with all the above and more in mind, here I go with my writing career, starting with a rigorous online writing course. I do not, cannot any longer, allow myself to dream great dreams about what may come of the words I continue to spew. I feel that I must explain the world as I see it in the most concise way to those would listen with their eyes. It is just something I have to do.

I enjoy the play of words. It is as if the Great Everything were an infinitely-sided crystal that I am allowed to see and attempt to describe, one facet at a time.

California, Sierra Nevada, near Donner Pass, September 1998

California, Sierra Nevada, near Donner Pass, September 1998

I am a lucky man, I am
I sit in mountains watching sky
As Moon traverses showing path
For Sun to take in just an hour

The trees, my friends, stand ever straight
And radiate their calmness true
My soul’s enraptured with the touch
Of cool thin air embracing me

My breast does swell with nameless warmth
A joyful feeling calmly felt
How easily I might, I think
Become a tree and friend to all

There is no ending to this poem
Like Nature’s patterns through us all
And we are played as instruments
In this celestial symphony …