A Field of Potentialities

I am writing today from my small room in Crestone Colorado. An arctic cold front has moved through Colorado, providing us a foot of snow, and 10F (-12C) temperatures. I moved from Boulder to the Crestone Mountain Zen Center on October 1st. I feel as though I have written a blog post like this before – in fact, I did, in 2011!

9 years later, I am making a similar choice. A synchronistic set of circumstances came together to allow this to happen. First, earlier in the summer, my Zen teacher, Zentatsu Baker Roshi, who was forced to remain in the US due to the pandemic, decided to unretire and began teaching and managing the monastery again. There were some significant leadership changes this summer at the monastery and several of my closest sangha friends over the years agreed to support my teacher through this transition. Suddenly a space that had felt uninviting in recent years was very open and welcoming to me.

In June, Roshi invited me to live at the monastery in any capacity possible. As my health at that time was still very compromised, I knew I would be unable to make an immediate decision. All my advisors were very clear that making big decisions in a state of depression and ill health, was not a good idea! Therefore, I left the decision open as my health improved until I felt more capable of a decision requiring a big change. With time, I noticed my heart was feeling increasingly at ease with the idea of returning to a monastic existence, and there was some excitement at the concept of being invited to participate in a part-time manner, something I will discuss below.

This time, the circumstances are wildly different. First, I will not “be dancing on loves stage with a beautiful Dutch woman” as I wrote 9 years ago. One of the more difficult aspects of moving here was choosing to leave behind two deeply satisfying and nourishing romantic relationships that had developed in recent months. At the monastery, my risk tolerance for coronavirus merges with the risk tolerance of the entire sangha – and that is a very low tolerance. Essentially the group here is self-isolating to keep our residents safe (Three residents are over 70 and my teacher is nearly 85). Aside from essential medical or shopping trips, my only engagement with others outside the monastery will be outside walks or Zoom calls. Anyone with significant exposure outside the monastery must quarantine and test before returning to communal practice life. The positive side of this is that it is as-if the pandemic does not exist here – because of the group self-quarantine, we do not need to wear masks, we eat and work closely together, hugging and touch are encouraged and what was once normal to everyone outside, remains normal here. Today I shared practice and meals with a group of 18 people which feels incredibly nourishing and intimate after the long period of chemo and corona isolation.

Although nearly four weeks have passed since I arrived, a clear sense of timelessness has accompanied living here. The schedule, the first teacher, is repetitive and unforgiving. The wake-up bell rings at 4:30, although many of us need to stir even earlier to prepare for our various practice roles. I am finding such deep nourishment in my daily meditation. Post-chemotherapy, I took an unintended hiatus from regular practice, possibly for the longest period since I began meditating regularly a decade ago. Each morning, despite the cold and darkness, I eagerly seek that cushion, coming back home to one of the most intimate places I have discovered in this life.

I am experimenting with a part-time schedule here, participating in about 2/3 of the daily activities while allowing myself extra space for ensuring I get enough rest to continue my healing. This means I skip the afternoon work period and the evening meditation – I would prefer not to miss this meditation, but it means I would not get to sleep until past 9. Right now, I need a solid 8 hours of sleep to remain healthy and not deplete my immune system. Once I see the clock strike at 8 pm, it’s lights out for me, which seems unbelievable, although completely necessary!

The other benefit of being on a 2/3 schedule is that I have some flexibility to remain connected to the outside world with better frequency and I am continuing to pursue several threads that have become very important to me in the last year. Authentic Relating is one of the primary ones: I am teaching an online course in Authentic Relating and am also mentoring several people in a leadership development course. I have also headed up a crowdfunding project for the Realness Project where we are raising funds to get authentic relating workbooks into prisons to bring some light to incarcerated people who are facing much more difficult and isolated conditions than many of us. There are a few other threads I may describe later, but the point is that my agreement with the staff here makes it possible for me to occasionally miss part of the morning work period for a meeting or to take a couple of days here or there to teach or take an online course. Normally such half-time positions are not possible, but because I have a long relationship and a developed practice with this monastery, we have come to this seemingly mutually beneficial agreement.

I think I’ll leave it here – I had intended to reach into the subtle aspects, the emotional and spiritual shifts and reflections, however, the practical points took over!  I hope to continue writing more consistently and plan to take you all along on this next stage of my healing and evolution!

Gratitude!

Gratitude!

Hi Friends, here is a quick update from post-chemo-recovery-land.

Last week I had my chemo port removed in an uneventful surgical procedure. Today I removed the final bandages to find a well-healing scar.  I am considering a tattoo in the area (this will be my first ever), so please vote on ideas!  Here are a few samples, personally the super nerdy USB port symbol is drawing my attention.

This surgery completes my formal conventional treatment. Unless I experience unusual symptoms, my next appointment will be January 2021 for a follow-up CT scan.

After a tough period in June and July, I feel I am emerging from this period of insulation and acute pain. I am managing through a series of physical complaints that I referred to last week, as to be expected for 6-12 months after an intense chemotherapy regimen.  My hair is growing rapidly and profusely: I am even grateful for those annoying nose hairs. Without them, your nose constantly drips all day long!

I am noticing the transition of my attention from day to day survival and comfort-seeking to more traditional focuses such as relationships, career, purpose, practice, meaning, etc. More on all of this soon. I’ve been able to get out into the high country to enjoy the midsummer alpine heaven that is Colorado. Attached are a few photos from a recent solo backpack from an isolated lake at 12,000 feet.

Today, I simply want to re-express my gratitude for all the support and love that continues to uplift and inspire me forward. I originally was going to start naming specific folks – however, when I sit and reflect on everyone involved, I realize this list is too long! My family, my oncology nurses, my extended community abroad, my local friends, lovers, the random social media friends following my blog, my acupuncturist, and massage therapists, and other healers: yoga therapist, oncologist, kinesiologist, astrologers. All the staff and support personal. Everyone who delivered me home-cooked meals and groceries. All the children (and adults!) who drew me pictures, sewed masks or created some art for me. My best friends who offered or did travel long distances to be with me. My spiritual community and spiritual teachers, guides, gurus, and friends- the men in my men’s community and my extended authentic and relational communities. The dark horse podcast and other online sources of inspiration in this difficult time. May more that are not coming to me at this moment. And to all of the courageous folks in every walk of life inspiring me daily.

My eyes are watery and soft as I write this list and feel overwhelmed as I remember all of the individual acts of care and love – financial and physical and emotional and so much more. I purchased a big box of thank you cards that I intend to eventually send out – for now, trust that I am grateful and I am doing my best to pay it forward with my actions and intentions as I move forward into the next phase of life.

We did this together.

Not in Control

Today marks two months since completing my chemotherapy treatment. It is hard to believe so much time has gone by, so quickly. This morning I met with my acupuncturist Kate, in an appointment that ended up feeling much more like therapy than acupuncture! I am very grateful for Kate’s healing touch over the past months. First, she is highly knowledgeable and skilled at what she does, and more importantly, she deeply cares and deeply listens.

I walked out of her office with tears streaming down my cheeks. I do not think I have cried for a while. What happened? We started speaking first about several of the physical issues I have been facing since chemotherapy – weight gain, odd body pains, skin discoloration, and a few other things. After examining the strange discoloration in the middle of my back associated with a lot of tension, Kate starts digging a little deeper – how are you feeling, what are your thoughts about the cancer? Do you feel responsible, do you blame the outside world?

After being needled thoroughly, physically, and verbally, our conversation eventually reaches a point of discussing normalcy. This concept has been affecting me and many of you, as we learn to live with the societal changes coronavirus has thrust upon us. For me, this goes a step further, as I emerge drastically changed physically, emotionally, and spiritually after this healing journey with cancer. I am struggling in many ways internally. Looking from the outside, things in my life appear normal. I am beginning to socialize, date, taking on projects, and going on retreat. I just spent 3 magical days in the wilderness camping at 12,000 feet at a pristine alpine lake.

The struggle centers around this concept of normalcy. My hair is growing back, aspects of life are returning to pre-cancer as much as they can considering the coronavirus backdrop, I feel motivated and directed in my activities. And YET, I also fear this normalcy. Was this just an 8-month bad dream? I am very proud of myself for tackling my healing process so strongly, for integrating the tumor and embracing the strong chemotherapy regimen. But I know this is not the complete healing – my mind wanders to the possible sources of the disease. If they were emotional or spiritually rooted, have I addressed the source? If I have not, how do I?

Therefore, these contradictory energies play inside of me – on one hand, this desire to return to what was, to all the masks and shadows I danced with previously, and on the other hand, pressing my foot on the brake, slowing down. Did I receive my lesson(s) from this healing process? Is there more to do? Returning to who and what I was is impossible, there have been too many changes this year.

Who am I and who do I want to be?

And this thought itself may be the greatest part of my struggle – during my treatment with tuning forks vibrating on my heart and crown, Kate instructed me to remind myself daily that I am being guided and that it is not always me who is in control. As obvious as this is, my entire being resists this knowledge with incredible force.

Anti-Gratitude

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.

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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:

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Supporting Keith

I intended to write this over a week ago, yet with coronavirus affecting so many lives it feels somewhat irresponsible for me to ask for anything. This is magnified by the fact that there are truly, many people in greater need than me in this moment. For most of my life, asking for help has been extremely difficult for me. I have been very successful to this point using an attitude and approach of independence and autonomy. However, in recent years I have become increasingly aware of the limitations of my individuality. Therefore, as part of my practice and healing, I will take this opportunity to ask, to express this need, without expecting anything. I may even express it again, and differently, in the future.

And I would be remiss if I did not share that until this point I have received an abundance of support: fresh meals, cards, rides, packages, sweet messages, financial support and so much more. However, as I prepare for the journey of the next months, I know I will be ever more reliant on you.

Here is where I am, currently. As many of you know I have lived very humbly for the last 10 years, since retiring from IBM and corporate America in 2009. Decent investments and a modest lifestyle have allowed me to live the lifestyle I have desired, focusing my energies on my internal world, meditation, relationships, sexuality, yoga and small communities. I earned very little, I kept expenses low and used savings as-needed. I lived in monasteries, in bungalows and friends’ basements along the way. I cashed in many hard in frequent flyer miles to cover those transoceanic flights.

At the start of 2020 I started looking for work – for two reasons. One, I decided I needed to include more routine and human connection into my life. And two, my savings account is steadily approaching zero as the expenses related to living in the U.S. accelerate. Working is not an option right now, for several reasons. Primarily because remaining unemployed enables me to continue use Medicaid insurance for my cancer treatment. As far as costs go, I never see a bill, but my understanding is that the sticker price for all the diagnostics and 6-cycle chemotherapy is between $300,000 – $400,000. I am grateful every single day that I am receiving this benefit from the government, and more fundamentally to YOU (everyone currently paying taxes in the US – Medicaid is funded 50/50 from state & federal funds). There are many individuals out there today making decisions about whether to pursue treatment or to feed their families. I cannot imagine the immensity of this struggle. All of this to say that I do recognize my fortunateness, my privilege and luck in this situation.

Finally, as I spoke about in my Two Hearts post last month, something I have been overlooking, despite being a warm and kind being, very capable of love and care, is in fact my inability to receive that very same love and care from others and the world. To deeply, fully, profoundly receive it. Therefore, with deep humbleness I ask for your continued support and love throughout this healing journey.

Here is how to help:

1. Meals and Groceries:

My wonderful friend Nikki has organized a meal train that has had a group of committed friends dropping of wonderful meals and snacks each day. Some people are cooking, others are ordering takeout from local restaurants. I worry that this small group may need extra support during my 5 months of treatment. If you live around Boulder and like cooking, please consider signing up! Also, it costs about $25 for a good, healthy meal to be delivered from a local restaurant, so if you live far away and still want to support me in this, please see option #5 on how to send $ to buy a meal.

This is the link to the meal train: https://www.mealtrain.com/trains/z1q9eo

2. Complementary and Alternative Care:

As I move through the process of chemotherapy, it is critical that I support it with alternative healing modalities like massage, acupuncture, supplements, etc. Due to coronavirus, the oncological clinic I was visiting has closed down and I am seeking outside and much more expensive support. Throughout these months I plan to visit integrated, holistic healers and doctors, which will not be covered by insurance. As I move towards the end of my treatment in June/July, I will prepare for a series of detoxes and alternative healing to fully support and quicken my recovery.

3. Local Support (Rides and Errands):

If you live in Boulder and can support me by running errands like grocery shopping, picking up prescriptions, or potentially giving me rides to the healing center for my treatments, please let me know and share your mobile # with me. My friend Mary Kathryn has organized a text-message group for exactly this purpose.

4. Mail:

I absolutely love receiving things in the mail – cards, photographs, flowers, snacks, boxes, postcards from around the world. Anyone who sends me a wig or a hat I promise to wear it and send you some pictures.

If you have the time and inclination to send anything to me, you can trust that this will absolutely brighten my day in an instant! My address is:

Keith McGuinnes

410 S 38th St.

Boulder, CO 80305

U.S.A.

5. Financial Support:

If you have the desire to support #1 or #2, or wish to send financial support for me to use on anything in my process, please consider sending your support via PayPal or Venmo. Amazon gift cards are also very helpful. If you are specifically sending money for a meal or acupuncture or anything specific, please say so in the notes and I will apply it appropriately!

Venmo App : @Keith-McGuinnes (last 4 digits 6417)

https://venmo.com/Keith-McGuinnes

PayPal Transfer:  paypal.me/KeithMcGuinnes

(Be sure to choose a friends & family transfer – otherwise Paypal deducts a 5% fee if you choose Donation or Paying for Goods or Service)

E-mail Address: kmcguinnes@gmail.com

6. Love, Support, Blessing, & Prayers:

Most importantly of all I ask you to continue to keep me in your thoughts, to continue sending healing energy my way. If you pray or meditate regularly, please include me in these. If you have an altar and can offer a candle or a flower to your higher power on behalf of my healing, please do.

And please continue to shower me with supportive WhatsApp, Facebook and E-mail messages. I love receiving photographs, music, poems, and anything else inspirational.

With Love and Gratitude,
Keith

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