Saturday, May 16, 2020

May 15, 2020 Covid Chronicle

Keeping a slower pace on reopening than the nation, Shell Point is opening up more activities, with caution. While some states are reducing restrictions, apparently for the sake of business, others are trying to balance this with a appropriate guidelines. I don't think it is just the need to salvage restaurants; I sense that people are tired of being cooped up, and are experiencing stir craziness. One woman told me, "This is getting ridiculous", and I think she meant having to wear masks in our building. Judy can now go swimming, spaced-out at the aquatic center. Others are now playing golf and pickle ball, all outside sports. I don't feel constrained by the circumstances as much as Judy does. There is a lot to do indoors and on the screen porch, still cool enough most days. Glad we can take most of our meals out there comfortably.
From what good science I read, riding in the elevator here with another person with no mask, is risky because you can't get a social distance of six feet. However, I am consoled by the fact that most elevator rides are less than five minutes. As I read the science, one cannot get enough viral cells to infect if you are not in someone's breathing aura for more than five minutes. I hope that  proves to be right, because  it makes things a little more relaxed. We walk around here on narrowish sidewalks, where you pass someone walking the other way, and so are not really exposed. I still hoist my mask into place when I pass them, just to signal my concern for everyone's welfare.
I can't see that the country has ramped up yet for sufficient testing, which will be necessary for traveling. At present time, it does not look like any travel North  for us to see kids and grandkids. Short of a vaccine, frequent targeted testing may allow safer air travel. It is unclear yet whether airplanes can scrub the air that recirculates, so if you test negative before you board, you won't infect others....maybe.
As we look back from some future standpoint, will we say this was just the beginning of the" war," or the middle? Where comes the turning point? Fort Myers and Lee County are still adding new cases of those testing positive, so in my mind the disease is expanding, though maybe at a slower rate. I want to see a downturn before I will feel comfortable going out to stores or any sort of gathering. I know I am in a high-risk category, just on age alone. I had to go to a couple of doctors' offices for procedures that can't be done with telehealth visits. I suited up with mask and gloves, and they seemed alert to the needed precautions. Can I put off my dental check up for awhile? I have put off the cataract surgery that was scheduled for late March.
 I am sure the national elections and campaigning are going to complicate things during the next six months. It is sad that partisan politics affects our health as much as it does. The unemployed and poor people have it the worst. I keep wondering when there will be a jobs stimulus with infrastructure spending, like the old WPA of the Roosevelt era. There doesn't seem to be a need for" make-work", considering our highways and bridges in need of repair even before all this began.
There is a bit of symbolism in the wearing of the mask, which I do in the building that houses our apartment 9and in the elevator). Behind the mask, one's identity is so hidden, that outdoors where people wear hats and sunglasses, it is hard to recognize people that I know. I have mistakenly said hello on the path to Steve when it was Jon! If you have your ego tied to being recognized, you will be frequently disappointed. Facial recognition software of your brain is failing to keep us personally in touch. The symbol part is that residents of this campus of some 2,000 people lose much of their identity when they sign in. Whatever they once were prior to retirement or prior to being "institutionalized", they are all homogenized. A few people get their picture in the glossy monthly magazine, and that seems like a big deal, because you see what activities they are associated with, and in some cases what they did as a career. A very few residents attach "doctor" to their name, but most sink back into the great leveling with nothing distinguishable.  As if they had donned the mask of plain vanilla.Others, like me, struggle to keep going at art or music to distinguish ourselves on those occasions that someone sees , not our career, but our lingering and maybe growing abilities. Shell point appears to draw little on the immense talents that people bring with them, seldom calling on the expertise of someone who could have been a college professor, dedicated scientist, or great legal mind. As if you lose it by coming through the gate. In my brief time here, it looks like they would rather hire someone from the outside for expertise. There is a teaching program for which I have made a couple of proposals, but nothing yet, due mostly to the fact that very few new classes are being taught on line at this point.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

Easter 2020

It is now a couple of weeks into the covid restricted activities, and not much has changed, except the weather. Daytimes are warmer and more humid,  and the nights are better with the air conditioning turned on. My personal project to improve sleep seems to be working. It makes me feel like I am controlling something in a world where now there are still many unpredictables. I learned a new word, "precariot" , it means a person living in conditions that are unpredictable.  I limit my consumption of news, and look for signs of hope among the collaborating scientists. Both Judy and I favor the reporting of the Christian Science Monitor, which is consistent in balancing the news with good reports from around the world.
  In some ways I am feeling relief that I have survived thus far. Apparently taking precautions of social distancing , helping to keep us safe. We have been consistent in having our groceries delivered, and making only necessary trips to routine needed medical appointments. At first the virus appeared so stealthy that it seemed like there was going to be no defense, and we had better get ready to die. I started living one-day-at-a-time, which is not a bad philosophy anyway. I have derived spiritual support from the writings of Fr. Richard Rohr.
  We still make a weekly trip to our former fruit trees to do gardening and harvest fruit. This is a cherished break from the sameness of the days in the apartment.  We can venture out and back, with no actual human contact. People at the gate, take our temperature and ask questions when we return.We harvested a large bunch of bananas, so now it is a challenge to find ways to use them. I have become a willing cook, and actually enjoy finding new vegetarian and vegan meals to produce, with Judy as the sou-chef.
  It is shocking to try and imagine what the people in New York With are enduring. Judy's 80 year old high school chum lives in Manhattan, got some version of the virus, but has survived without hospitalization. It must be a challenge for preachers in the city to find inspiration for an Easter sermon today, considering the theme of life and death are all around them, not to mention illness and suffering. Will they speak the faith traditional words of comfort (which might be enough to quiet the deepest and unconscious part of us) , or will they offer interpretations of the  glaring forces impinging on all of us? What is there to say in the street vernacular?  I read that hospital chaplains are finding totally new and creative ways to minister to the sick and dying . They are in the trenches, bringing some gracious meaning to the worst of cases. Some of it reminds me of stories of another trench war: World War I. I take my hat off to all those who are giving comfort and support in the situations they find themselves in.
  Our kids and grand-kids are in touch regularly, and all the adults have jobs, plus managing some form of at home schooling. There are always things to be thankful for.

Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Better Sleep for These Nights

There is some good and credible evidence that a good night's sleep improves the immune system. Who knows whether and how you might get exposed to the virus, but your immune system is always working for you, and it is powerful. Covid-19 has been called a wimp.

So here I submit an outline of a course I was to have given at Florida Gulf Coast Univ, Seniors Academy last week:

1, Walk outside in the late afternoon without sunglasses. You will be building up your natural melatonin, the brain's sleep-inducer. (There is a slightly reduced supply of melatonin in older persons.).
2, Learn to use diaphragmatic breathing, instruction on the internet, or email me for my instruction sheet. DB turns on the parasympathetic nervous system to calm your worries, including worry about sleeping. It is a physiological event.
3. Slow down before bedtime, read fiction, and meditate, (or just relax).
4.If you nap, make it short, less than one hour, and do it before 3 PM.
5. Get some regular exercise, but do it at least three hours ahead of bedtime.
6. Avoid alcohol. The relaxation from it actually interferes with important stages of sleep. See the book, "Why We Sleep"
7.Take notes on your negative self-talk, and subject these statements to Cognitive Behavior Therapy reworking. See book "Feeling Good" and/or "CBT-1 Coach" as an app. Source: Health After 50, Berkeley School of Public Health.
8. Learn Self-Hypnosis. There are pre-written scripts for this. Licensed clinical hypnotherapists can teach it to you. See American Society of Clinical Hypnosis list of practitioners, some of whom you may visit online.
9. Don't neglect signs of sleep apnea, for which C-pap devices are now in common use via your medical doctor.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Shell Point Today

Shell Point and Covid-19, March 27, 2020

I have hoisted my keyboard onto the desk again to talk about my current situation, March 2020, in the midst of the covid-19 pandemic. It has been a few years since I posted, but my( our) life has gone right ahead, with a recent move to Shell Point Retirement Center, that some of you knew about. I recently found the picture above, which looks strikingly like the first picture of "The Island" where we live. Indeed it is another island, but actually is a view of Rikers Island. Not a place I would like to be right now, and I have compassion for all New Yorkers in the present crisis. But it makes me think about the state of reduced activity in this retirement community. We are observing social distancing and all group activities have been halted. We are free to leave our apartment, and we do, for wonderful walks along the river. We can leave the island , but are screened about contacts made while off campus upon return. We are extremely fortunate to be able to go visit our previous home in south Ft Myers. There I have my fruit trees to tend, and even harvest, which adds to our menu. On campus we spend more time indoors, and more importantly, on our spacious screen porch which overlooks the beautiful park, including with a pizza=pie slice of the Caloosahatchie River. The porch includes a dining table and, of course, several potted plants. Soon I hope to have a garden plot here. We do some cooking for ourselves, get some groceries delivered, and carry out some meals from the nearby dining room. The picture below reminds me of the "Angalus" atmosphere here, where the daily chapel bells remind us to stop and reflect. Actually the confinement is a little like being in a monastery. Except, of course, we have each other. I am actually spending more time meditating and reading and painting. Who knows,soon we may even complete the monastic atmosphere by baking bread!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Course on Altered States

This summer I will be teaching a course on altered states of consciousness. The course title is " Common Threads of the Mind-Bending Disciplines", and I intend to deal with ways in which we use different proscribed methods to change the way we experience our inner and outer reality.

From Transcendental Meditation to Centering Prayer, and from Autogenics, to mystical Kabbalah, it seems to me that there are many obvious overlapping behavioral elements for how we get to the altered state, and how we see life as a result. For example, there seems to be the element of relaxation involved in nearly everyone of the practices. Many involve breath work. Some use chanting or repetitive mantras.

Years of doing hypnosis and self-hypnosis has brought me to see many similarities among the practices of mind nourishment and spiritual uplifting. When the preacher or liturgist is praying as part of the worship experience, I have detected many phrases, religious or not, that are suggestions. Different than what hypnosis itself might use, but metaphors about God ("shepherd" , "healer", everlasting arms") are aids to worship, just as stained glass and pleasant music is. The Taissé Community makes full use, in its worship practice, of stimuli to all the senses: sight, aroma, sound. It is as if somehow, the shamans  through the ages sacred and secular, knew they were not dealing with objective reality. The"How" of altered states is familiar to Tai Chi and Yoga, practiced as a discipline. Something changes from ordinary to even blissful.

The "Why" of altered states may be hinted at or openly lauded within the different methods. Many disciplines point to the need to stop "doing" and move into the neutral place of "being". Experiencing the sense of NOW is for the purpose of contentment, and/or a new sense of self-awareness. My understanding of Buddhism is that the disengagement from the prevailing life experience of suffering is achieved with a meditation discipline. Mindfulness, as practiced by Jon Kabat-Zinn, is meant to be therapeutic for a number of emotional problems. Clinical psychology has expanded the practice of mindfulness to treat anxiety, depression, and drug addiction. Both spiritual enlightenment and emotional health are goals of these different expressions of meditation. Are these the same phenomenon? Pet scans by the psychologists show very similar blood flow in the brain during the time of meditation.

Mystical traditions from Christian history (for example, John-of-the-Cross), make contemplation sound very much like meditation. In the religious traditions of the mystics, both Christian and Jewish, there is an added element,  that of transcendence, by which they usually mean being in touch with the Divine. It is a kind of vertical dimension to the otherwise secular and horizontally experienced meditation. The presence of "the Holy" is a gift bestowed upon those who are quiet and receptive. The mystical pathway is described as Inward, Upward, and then Outward. Outward becomes the added activity of compassionate service to mankind, to whom the meditator is linked "unitatively" , a sense of Oneness with everything. There is no competitiveness between persons, because, by this awareness, we are all in the same boat.

The course may be found in the curriculum of Silver Bay, New York, Conference Center ( for the week of August 11-18, 2018. it is a beautiful spot on Lake George.

Friday, May 18, 2018

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