Oh, And This Morning, I Forgot I Had Cancer

I don’t normally link to stories Iike this, especially if they have the word ‘maximise’ in the title. My favourite stories usually involve Teh Cute. However, this hits on a few things I’ve been saying for years. Namely:

‘What is this life if, full of care, we have no time to stand and stare [at cats]’

I may not have the quote exactly right, and at our house, it’s mandatory to add ‘at cats’, but you get the idea. I know we’re all busy, we all have a lot of demands on our time, a lot of things screaming for our attention, deadlines that must be met.

But people are not machines. We need time to do nothing. We need time to sit and daydream. Or not think at all. In some areas, this is called sitting zazen although you don’t have to sit. Old Eternal told me that when she was a kid, every time it rained, her mother/my grandmother went for a long walk. If anyone asked if they could go with her, she’d say no. Then she’d put up her umbrella and saunter off into the wet for half an hour.

Apparently the walking-in the-rain thing is genetic because I’ve been known to do the same thing, although I’ll let someone come with me if they promise they won’t do anything that could be construed as an errand or a chore. Grandma on the other hand had seven kids and usually no fewer than three extra relatives, not to mention anyone else she might have taken in because they had nowhere else to go. So I understand why Grandma preferred to walk solo.

But my point is, you need to have periods of time when you are not justifying your existence, to anyone, time when you are not improving, learning, thinking constructively, or applying yourself. And you need to spend those times away from the Internet and/or the TV and/or videogames. Your brain needs to have some time when nothing is required of it, when it doesn’t have to work on something important or challenging or even fun. It needs time to do its own thing. Personally, I think of this as giving the black box time to digest.

You may not find all of the advice in this article appealing and maybe some things won’t work for you. However, if you do nothing else do this one thing: get enough sleep.

If you’re sleep-deprived, you’re in a bad way. Sometimes this can’t be helped––if you’ve got a new baby, a colicky baby, a toddler running a fever of 105F, some other family member who is ill and needs care, or some other extraordinary situation, this isn’t aimed at you, although I really hope you get to a place very soon where you can get more rest, because you sure need it.

Sleep-deprivation isn’t just *really bad*––it’s a form of torture used on prisoners in very bad places in the world. All torture begins with sleep-deprivation––trust me, no self-respecting sadistic interrogator ever hung well-rested prisoners up by their thumbs. So if you’re not getting enough sleep, you are, in fact, subjecting yourself to torture. Would you do that to your best friend? Then don’t do it to yourself.

As I said, the rest of the advice here may or may not apply to you. In general, I don’t have much trouble blocking minimising my time online. There’s always someone somewhere being wrong on the Internet. The thing is, I’m extremely lazy. Do I get involved with that, or do I spend the same amount of time goofing off? Do I have to tell you goofing off wins every time?

And when was the last time someone who was wrong on the Internet actually gave deep consideration to your words and said, ‘Damn, baby, you’re right! I’ve had my head up my ass. I feel so foolish. Let’s be friends!’

The only other thing I’d exercise caution about is the shutting-down ritual. I know so many people with a touch of OCD and for them, this could b a slippery slope. I don’t think of myself as particularly OCD––people as lazy as I am don’t look for more things to do––but then I noticed I’m doing this thing with the light switches in the hallway. Right now it’s only quirky but I think it’s got to stop anyway.

But I digress….

Zen and the Art of Anti-Cancer Maintenance

About thirty-five years ago, I got into Zen in a big way. Some people thought I was silly; some people thought I was a remarkably late bloomer. Maybe I was both but that didn’t bother me. It happened at the right time––chance favours the prepared mind (the definition of serendipity). Keep your mind prepared and you will find that you come upon the exact instrument/technique/ice cream you need at the exact moment you need it.

I absorbed Zen on a deep level, so much so that more often than not, I follow the principles without even realising it. Zen is, basically, knowing what to do––or knowing that there’s nothing you can do, and not only being able to identify which is which, but also not lying to yourself about which one you are faced with. If that reminds some readers of the Serenity Prayer, I’m not surprised. What I like about Zen is that it identifies the principle involved in the Serenity Prayer, and then leaves it up to you as to whether a deity is involved.

Personally, I’m not a believer…but that doesn’t mean I’m a total disbeliever, either. The more I learn about science––and I’ve been studying hard lately as research for this novel I’m writing––the more in awe I am of the universe. If I did believe in a deity, I would think that learning as much as possible about the natural world––from quarks to the microwave afterglow of the Big Bang to gravity waves––would be the best kind of prayer. But I’m starting to digress. I hit a section of the novel where things got very mystical in a hard-science way. Don’t ask me, I just think here.

But I was talking about Zen. Not long after I embraced it, a friend told me––with no disrespect––that she didn’t think of me as a Zen person. But her impression of a Zen person was someone who cruised through life with an attitude of ‘It’s all good’ (I’m paraphrasing). This is similar to the mistaken impression some people have of antidepressants––i.e., that they’ll level you out so you emotionally flatline and go around with a vague smile on your face, no matter what happens Neither is true. (I’ll get into the matter of antidepressants another time; I’ve been taking them for over twenty years and I promise you, they are not ‘happy pills.’) 

As for Zen: if you have ever seen the movie The Deer-Hunter, it has one of the most Zen moments I’ve ever seen in a film. It comes unexpectedly, early on, after the big wedding, when all the other guys decide to go hunting. John Cazale’s character hasn’t brought boots, which apparently is typical behaviour for him, and he wants to borrow a pair from someone else. Robert DeNiro’s character is fed up with him and doesn’t want to give him any. He takes a bullet and, holding it up, says, ‘Do you see this? This is this––this is not something else, this is this.‘ I think that’s an amazing moment. And then Christopher Walken, in the sudden role of Buddha, gives John Cazale’s character a pair of boots and says to DeNiro, ‘What’s the matter with you?’ (Actually, he says, ‘Whatsamatter wichoo?’ Which is how that particular question is pronounced in the northeastern/mid-Atlantic area of the US) The question is basically an even more emphatic ‘This is this, this is not something else’ lesson for DeNiro––i.e., ‘This is what he does; accept it or don’t come with us.’ 

Yeah, I know: that’s probably not what Michael Cimino was intending. But that’s what I saw. Cimino would probably think I was nuts but what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him.

So what does this have to do with Zen and the Art of Anti-Cancer Maintenance? Well, that’s the title on the post, isn’t it? It’s all anti-cancer here all the time. But in fact, someone left the photo below on my Facebook page, and I wrote a koan to go with it. This is all just my excuse to post both photo and koan here.


A student said to the Buddha, “Master, how may I gain enlightenment?’

The Buddha said, ‘Wait.’

The student waited all day. Finally he fell asleep. During the night, a kitteh crawled onto his lap and went to sleep.

In the morning, the student awoke and found the kitteh sleeping on his lap. Immediately he was enlightened.