And pieces of my heart are scattered here, there, and everywhere, shattered glass on a stone cold ceramic floor.

Spirit is gone and he must be my last dog.

At age 83 and with the quality of my health beginning to show signs of deteriorating, it would be irresponsible for me to entertain the idea of getting another dog.

It was time to let him go – not second guessing myself about that – the cancerous tumor on his jaw was growing rapidly – it had reached the point where he was having a hard time even drinking water and I am guessing the cancer had spread to other parts of his body because he was hardly pooping anymore and it was almost liquid when he did. And to keep him in the game, I was giving him pain medication 3-4 times/day. I don’t think he was in pain but dogs (animals) are so stoic ……. I hope I did not allow him suffer to please me.

On Sunday, August 8, I looked into his eyes and he told me he was ready. I cried and cried and cried. But, I agreed to let him go. Truth is, I had been mourning his passing for many weeks now as I saw the time approaching. I am crying now as I write this.

I have learned to embrace my grieving process. When my wife, Dianna died, I chose to face it head on, to be willing to fully experience all of it, no matter how long it takes or how painful it feels and to go through it all with an open, vulnerable heart. This is what I am doing now, and will continue to do until I have released all the sadness, pain and sorrow I feel now.

Below is the letter of his last day I sent to friends:

Spirit left this reality at 11:36 AM this morning.
He ate a good sized pure chicken breakfast at around 7 AM while I was driving us to Heritage Park, about a 20 minute drive, and a huge expanse near Adrian. It was our favorite place to walk – tons of walking trails. Whenever I had to go to Adrian, it was always our first stop. Today, we went on a brief 20 minute walk. Then he climbed back into the car without encouragement. He was done. From there, we toured the back country gravel roads of Lenawee county for a bit less than 2 hours, seeing deer, sand hill cranes here and there.
The vet came out to our house, took off her shoes and Spirit immediately grabbed one of them. I gently took it away from him, as she went through her process to gently put him down while he lay on our bed with the ceiling fan running full blast. He offered no resistance and was comfortable throughout the entire process. Carol and I petted him and talked to him as he was dying. He barely moved a muscle.
I tried not to but I cried.
Then I transported his body to a local crematorium.
I will spread his ashes in the Onsted Village Park, a walking place we visited almost daily during his life, where he met so many people, so many kids, so many dogs, so many smells, chased so many squirrels, finished off quite a few half eaten sandwiches and other “treats”, as we roamed the park and connected trail. It also had a small creek running through it, which he loved to lay in during low water times and run through when it was running high. I will sprinkle some of his ashes into that creek.
I have never had to put down a dog who still had this much energy, active life force, enthusiasm for life – though very much diminished from his normal way of being by the time of his passing. Painful, unsettling, disturbing in every way. This guy had SO much energy to begin with, it is probably not out of line that he still had some left.
My heart was breaking minute by minute, hour by hour, over the past few weeks but the tumors on his jaw and leg were out of control and expanding so rapidly, he had a hard time even drinking. And without pain pills, he would have been in agony.
So, I ignored my own feelings and let him go.
Still, he LOVED life! I never wanted to train this quality out of him, or, in any way, inhibit his enthusiasm. So glad I did not. I loved this about him.
So it is goodbye dear lovely friend, my blessing for over nine magical years. Not long enough but there is no time that would have been long enough. I am eternally grateful for every moment we were given together. And yet, the hole in my life is too big for me to grasp – he was with me during every moment of the day and now ………………..
You are always be in my heart, sweet Spiritdog.  
We will re-unite on the other side. Will find out just how when my time comes.
A baby rabbit is eating seeds outside my window.
Life goes on.
Love to you all
John

My middle son, Stephan, died on August 31, 2020, one year ago.

Before that, I lost dear friends, Mark Schelereth, and a couple of years before that, Steve Kridelbaugh, and recently, his wife, Linda.

The downside of getting old and still being alive is the loss of friends and family as they peel off, one by one.

But, maybe not so oddly, of all of these lovely souls, I miss Spirit most of all. It is the simple practical reality that he was at the center of my daily life; friends and family lived far away and were not an integral part of my daily life – though I love them all dearly.

Spirit and I were together essentially every minute of every day for 9 years. I can still see him the day we first met, the day he chose me, a seven week old puppy who rolled over on his back between my legs so I could scratch his little belly – and as he would do so often during the years that followed.

I so deeply miss his standing on the car console staring out the window to see what is going on as we cruised down the road, tapping my right hand with his left paw if I stopped scratching him under his neck, occasionally laying his head into the curve of my neck, and resting it there just so we could feel closer, or sticking half his body out the rear window to catch the wind, and those spurious passing scents only he knew were there. Or laying next to me, or under my computer table, as I wrote my book or emailed, or searched the internet. Those spots are empty now and when I look at them, my heart is heavy.

Where is my boy?

Has my Spiritdog stopped talking?

We will see.

So happy to meet you my dear friend


Spirit at around age 2

 

 



Wait, wait for me. I will be with you soon enough

Post # 27 05302020

For the past few months, I have been noticing new tumor growth on Spiritdog’s lower jaw and right rear leg, the exact same locations of the original tumors treated with radiation in May, 2019. Subsequent biopsies of both locations confirmed the recurrence (or continuance) of sarcomas. So, sorry to say, the result of treating him with both radiation and fenbendazole has been quite disappointing.

And it is what it is.

I decided to do palliative radiation at the Michigan State University Small Animal Clinic consisting of five treatments, each one a week apart, beginning with last Thursday. The goal is to provide him with more pain free time at a cost of ~ $3000. Is it worth it? Today he acts like a normal healthy middle aged dog, so, for me, the hope of keeping him that way longer makes it a yes.

After the radiation treatments, I will also look into some form of additional treatment even including chemotherapy if I can find a modality that offers minimal side effects with extended quality of life. Maybe metronomic chemotherapy using either cytoxan or Palladia, perhaps alternating it with fenben, perhaps not, or ….. something else?

How am I dealing with this turn of events? Like any human being, I bounce back and forth. I try to follow Spiritdog’s example, living in the present, saturated with appreciation, gratitude and the joy of being with him. In this present, he is acting like a perfectly healthy dog. And sometimes I manufacture stress by sliding into my fear of him dying, even mourning his death, creating stories about the future that obliterate being present, evaporating joy.

As a quick reminder about how our body responds to our stories, from Premier Health, (www.premierhealth.com. Feb 5, 2017): As your body perceives stress, your adrenal glands make and release the hormone cortisol into your bloodstream. Often called the “stress hormone,” cortisol causes an increase in your heart rate and blood pressure.

Fortunately, I can objectively watch myself generating stress because I take my blood pressure daily with my home monitor (usually twice, in the AM and PM). I plot the data on a graph so I can see both how my BP changes daily and over time.

So, how has my concerns about Spiritdog affected my blood pressure? Bounced it up to a higher average it seems.

I confounded my own data however because during this same time I also stopped taking one pill/day of Mukta Vati, a stress reducing herbal mixture. My “before” BP was averaging ~110/65 and when I stopped taking it (and began stressing about spirit fueled by the latest diagnosis), my BP has drifted up to ~125/80, some days lower, some days higher, with morning readings almost always lower than evening readings.

One’s blood pressure matters.

From the American Heart Association: The Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial, known as SPRINT, studied more than 9,300 people older than age 50 who had high blood pressure and at least one other risk factor for heart disease. By using medicines to reduce systolic blood pressure to below 120, instead of below 140:

  • rates of heart attack, heart failure and stroke went down 30 percent; and
  • rates of death from those conditions dropped nearly 25 percent.

I could start taking MV again but am going to wait a couple more weeks to see if I can practice being more conscious of my stories and let go of those that do not serve my well being.

Everyone should have a home blood pressure monitor.

It is inexpensive, reliable and offers valuable data not only about the health of our body but also insight into the workings of our brain.

Post #26 05032020

To re-cap, I had finally reached a state of mind that results in a reduced stress level as measured by my blood pressure, now routinely 120/80 or less, without relying on cigarettes or any other drug.

How did I do that?

An insight comes to mind from the Est Training (now Landmark Forum) I attended so long ago (1980).  The punch line to that four day training was simple, startling: Life is empty and meaningless! The point being that it is up to each one of us to create meaning…… every day, in every moment.

And, a companion insight offered by Seth, as channeled by Jane Roberts, taken from The Nature of Personal Reality.

You are given the gifts of the gods,
you create your reality
according to your beliefs.
Yours is the creative energy
that makes your world.
There are no limitations to the self
except those you believe in.

Finally, there is the excerpt from my own book (11 Life Practices, practice #3, Life is Recreation):

The reality we experience is always personal and subjective.

About this we have no choice. It is the way our sensory system/brain is designed.

We could call this one of the rules governing this reality.

Rather than resist this feature of our reality, we do well to embrace it and use it to our advantage. Because we are creative beings, every moment is an opportunity to re-create new stories about ourselves, our lives and imagine new futures for ourselves.

In other words, we can’t help being story tellers. The very act of sensing reality and processing that data in our brain creates a story. It is the way we experience “reality.” However because we have created it, we also have the capacity to recreate it, i.e., to create a different story about ourselves, our current life experience.

So, returning to my high blood pressure episode, my story at the time was: the moment I completed my book, my purpose for “getting up in the morning” was gone. Suddenly I was experiencing my life as being empty and meaningless.

But (my story continues) I am a goal driven being. What do I do when I no longer have a goal?

After suffering in this anxiety driven state of mind, “wringing my hands” for several weeks, I suddenly (and accidentally) discovered I had super high blood pressure. This turned out to be a gift, a startling wake up call.  Once I realized I had HBP after a lifetime of normal blood pressure, I dove into the research. How could this happen, I wanted to know.

What I discovered is stress is a leading cause of high blood pressure.

  1. Now I got it. The anxiety and emotional distress of losing my sense of purpose left me feeling life was, indeed, empty and meaningless. This story created stress, which generated my high blood pressure.

What is my way forward? What can I do about it?

Once again, Spiritdog was/is my savior, my teacher.

When I look into his eyes, touch his fur, in the blink of an eye I lurch out of the past/future, into  being now-here, where joy lives. He wakes me up! He does for me what meditation can do, or sometimes the sun breaking over the trees on the eastern horizon, or sunlight shimmering across the surface of the lake, can do. But Spiritdog is highly reliable and always available. He, himself, is always in this space of being in every moment, and he is always at my side.

Being now-here, being, itself, is enough reason for appreciation, gratitude and joy he says without speaking.

The way forward is being now –here, he says without speaking.

When we are being now-here, the need for stories disappears. So do the stories themselves.

So the safe place in any storm is being now – here, returning us to joy.

 

And I love being goal oriented, having a sense of purpose. I don’t need to give this up; I can simply put my doing where it belongs, in the context of being. I can recognize I am whole and complete, with or without goals, that life is whole and complete as it is without me adding any of my stuff to it. And I can also pay attention, notice opportunities that offer me the possibility of making a difference, of contributing to the whole, that excite my passion ….. and show up by pouring my energy into actualizing them (practice #6 in 11 Life Practices).

Earlier in life I did this by practicing engineering, solving technical problems, and toward being an activist, doing what I could to solve this problem or that one, and later it was toward supporting groups of people in becoming high performance teams. In this later phase of my life, my passion has been devoted to writing. I wrote books, Dianna’s Way, then 11 Life Practices and now it is to write this, right now, right here. More fundamentally, writing has been a thread throughout my life, a way for me to explore my own personal reality.

But, none of this replaces being now-here, drenched in appreciation, gratitude, and joy. It is simply the content of my life that is fun to do.

So, as I see it, the way to handle stress on a day to day basis without using drugs, whether cigarettes, weed, or Prozac, is twofold:

  1. Practice being now-here.
  2. Be patient, paying attention to opportunities for contributing to the whole. Then show up!

Summarizing, life is bound to be up and down, exciting and boring, challenging and sleep inducing, projects start and end, careers begin and end. But no matter how things are going in the plan b) category, our back up is always the capacity to avail ourselves of plan a). No matter what we are up to in life, if we always nurture the capacity to be now-here, and practice it (why it is practice #1 in Life Practices), we are going to be OK.

 

 

 

 

 

Post #25 03272020 Results of Campaign to Reduce High Blood Pressure

I have achieved my BP goal of 120/80 (currently ~110-120/60-70) and without wild swings.

I have learned some variation is normal. In fact, my research says to take at least 2, better 3 readings on my home monitor each time I take readings, then discard the first one, which will usually be significantly higher (I have found this to be true) and count the succeeding readings as valid, and average them.

Importantly, I have also eliminated both Losartan and Amlodipine and, after a two week period of time, eliminated the single morning capsule of Mukta Vati (MV) as well.

It has taken me 3-4 months but I am finally medication free with normal blood pressure, as I was last November before I quit smoking cigarettes.

By the way, the claim for MV is it can, with some months of use, actually cure HBP. Is this true? Have no idea.  But, since western meds promise lifetime dependence and since my goal is to get off ALL meds, I decided to continue with MV a while longer. Now, whether due to MV or something else, my blood pressure has returned to normal.

It’s worth noting there is a key difference between these eastern and western drug options.

Our body produces a surge of hormones when we are feeling stressed or anxious. These hormones temporarily increase our blood pressure by causing our heart to beat faster and our blood vessels to narrow. If we are in a continual state of stress, this condition then persists, resulting in hypertension as a health condition (HBP).

Mukta Vati (reportedly) acts to reduce our feelings of stress, thus preventing the hormone surge that constricts our blood vessels from occurring in the first place; the result, no HBP. Western HBP drugs, on the other hand, simply open/relax the blood vessels being constricted in various ways through chemical means. They do nothing to reduce the feelings of stress, itself.

So the former is treating the “cause” of blood vessel restriction while the latter is treating the “symptom.”  Both work but in different ways.

But I say “cause” because the hormonally generated stress going on in my body is not the root cause of my HBP. Whatever is creating my feelings of stress is the root cause. Based on my own insight into what my mind is up to, I have concluded the root cause of my stress is the story about my life circumstances that I, myself, created, and then interpreted/experienced as being stressful.

This suggests that it is our mind that generates our physical condition. While, I am going to say this is true this time, is this always true? Maybe. But I’m not going to claim that here.

Even if it is true that my mind is the source of my stress and its effects, I still need to find a healthier, interim way to manage stress than smoking cigarettes until I can sort out what I am creating and why. Maybe this is the backup role MV will play in my life going forward because there are bound to be periods of high stress in any life, even in a life well lived. For sure we all need stress management tools to get us through rough patches in life to reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke or other serious physical damage.

Some people resort to alcohol or illegal drugs, or stay within the law with anti-depressants, anti-anxiety and/or other legal drugs. Others use marijuana or CBD oil. And, of course, western HBP medications chemically open the blood vessels to reduce BP. But, with no judgment intended, my ultimate goal is to learn how to use my own mind/body/soul to naturally reduce stress while using MV as an interim aid (weeks, months at most). Without using any other drugs at all.

In other words, I can use MV to deal with the weather of my life (periodic upsets) but I want to manage the climate of my life by creating new, healthier, life sustaining, joyful stories about myself, my life, stories consistent with experiencing meaning, fulfillment, and satisfaction (so naturally reducing stress).

Meanwhile, since I have the home monitor, might as well make use of it by maintaining a daily log of my BP measurements, taking it several times a day. I want to see how it changes, what BP range I am living with, what activities affect it, up or down. It has become an invaluable tool for tracking my experiments in managing stress.

I learned something else too. Another reason for using a home BP monitor on a regular basis is HBP is a silent killer usually without any symptoms at all. So the monitor has become an elegant way to check on my level of stress that costs almost nothing. (The Omron unit I own cost $50).

Now that I have eliminated my drug dependence, first cigarettes, then HBP medications, and finally MV, while living with a normal BP, I will examine the story I have created about myself and my life in my next post.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Post #22 02022020

Since quitting smoking on 12/2/2019, my approach is to take it one day at a time, recognizing that each day I can find a different way to respond to life events (a phone call, capping off dinner, having a beer, etc…) that used to trigger a cigarette I am re-wiring my brain for living life without tobacco.

Summarizing some sage advice from others who have traveled this road already:

Every smoke-free day I complete I am teaching myself how to live my life without cigarettes. Bit by bit, I’m re-wiring my brain, reprogramming my responses to daily events that trigger the urge to smoke by choosing something other than smoking when the urge surfaces.

Over the course of my first smoke-free year, I’ll encounter – and have a chance to clear – most of the events and situations (triggers) in my daily life that I have associated with smoking.

Practice is a necessary part of recovery from nicotine addiction. There is no getting around it, so try to relax and let time help me. I built my smoking habit through years of practice, and now I must build the nonsmoking me in the same way. The more practice I put between myself and that last cigarette I smoked, the stronger I’ll become.

Nobody said it would be easy.

On the other hand, when I look around the world and see what others are enduring, it puts my petty whining in perspective.

Time for me to Buck Up (practice #10 in my book), Lighten Up (practice #11)

Then, on 1/17/2020, a shocking turn of events.

While in a CVS pharmacy to get a shingles vaccine, I checked out my blood pressure on their store BP monitor. My blood pressure has always been normal and the last check up at my doctor’s office on 10/29/2019 was 117/74. I expected about the same this time so I could not believe my eyes when all three times I checked it, that CVS machine gave readings in the 190+/160+ range!!!!!

A couple of days later, I had my BP checked at my doctor’s office: 168/100!!! Still ridiculously high. The next day, for the first time in my life, I started taking a high blood pressure medication (losartan, 50 mg/day).

I also immediately purchased a home BP monitor on Amazon (Omron, recommended by my doctor, cost $50, and so far, am very happy with how it works, ease of use, though have yet to compare the results to the doctor’s machine, and durability is unknown.)

Unfortunately, during the two weeks since taking the medication, my blood pressure has stayed in an unacceptably high range – 145-180/90-100 – and the readings are erratic (the machine or reality – have no way of knowing yet anyway) so will be seeing the doctor again in a couple of days.

Besides, one’s blood pressure should go down when one quits smoking (smoking constricts blood vessels), not up.

So, what is going on?

Post #21 01152020

In my last post, I brought up the emotional turmoil I was feeling since I quit smoking on 12/2/2019.

How to describe it?

Periodic, almost daily, headaches (before this, I have had probably 5 headaches in my entire life), a discouraging absence of passion to do anything. No motivation, no focus, no enthusiasm. The opposite of how I usually feel about life, how I greet each day.  Worst of all, the quality of my sleep, which has almost always been excellent, has fallen off a cliff. Drifting in and out, most of the night, waking up still tired.

This all came as a complete surprise to me. I had no plan whatsoever for dealing with it.

On top of the emotional disorientation, which persisted through December, I hosted a family gathering for the holidays. About 2-3 days later, I began experiencing chills, lack of energy, headaches. The flu coming on? I immediately fell into taking long naps (2-3 hours), mega doses of vitamin C (3000 mg at a time, 2-3 times per day) and Echinacea 6-8 capsules/day). After 3-4 days, I began feeling better. So I have apparently dodged that bullet, whatever it was.

While physically OK again, I am still dealing with the same emotional funk.

I found the following comments while doing research into the characteristics of nicotine withdrawal:

People who have successfully quit the habit often talk about the “icky threes” of quitting. These include:

  • 3 days. The worst period of physical withdrawal. (not really that bad for me – I had spent months re-wiring my brain to not smoking prior to my quit day.)
  • 3 weeks. The time when physical withdrawal is waning and the psychological withdrawal takes over. (Oh yeah!)
  • 3 months. Sometimes referred to as “the blahs,” at 3 months post-quit-date some of the newness of quitting wears off, and some people wonder, “Is that all there is?” This is a common time for relapse to occur. (hmmmmm)

I am definitely in the last phase, an emotional state aptly named, “the blahs.”

My approach for now:

  1. So be it. This is how I feel. Be fully present to it (practice #1/ A Beginner’s Mind). In other words, do not put a happy face on it, or grin and bear it. Rather, acknowledge how I really feel, be willing to fully experience it and see if whether Werner Erhard nailed it when he said, “Whatever we are willing to fully experience disappears.” Has been true for me in the past. Will see how it goes now.
  2. Choose a more useful attitude about it all. (Practice #7, Choosing Our Attitude, in my book). Yes, the feelings I am having suck. However, each day is another day I have not responded to the million cues a smoker gets to have a cigarette by having a cigarette. Each day I am re- wiring my brain to behave as a non smoker. Each day without smoking is another success. Each day, my body, especially my lungs, are gaining time to heal, another day it is no longer under siege. Another day gifted to my body.

It is a beginning.

Post #20 01022020

Post #20 is my first post for 2020; nice symmetry.

This post also marks a shift from a 100% focus on just my dog, Spirit, to exploring other facets of my life.

 

On 12/2/2019, I smoked my last cigarette.

I smoked my first one when I was 13 years old on a cold, clear winter night in 1951. It was a Lucky Strike, snitched from the poker table where my dad and his friends were taking a break from their annual New Year holiday marathon poker session in Dearborn, Michigan.

I slipped out of the house with my single cigarette and a book of matches in my coat pocket. I can still feel that snow squeaking under my feet; see the cyclone wire fence paralleling the sidewalk, my breath puffing out into the black night air. I stopped under a street lamp to light up, then took my first ever drag.

Oooooh. Suddenly I tumbled into a wonder world. Bliss. Safer, more secure somehow, a space without sharp edges. This felt familiar to me in some diffuse, blurred way. Did I smoke in other incarnations? Did I know then what I was feeling now? That I had a new friend I could always count on to deliver, calm, peace, joy, relief, comfort, even a keener insight into life?

I never looked back.

Some 400,000 cigarettes later, I smoked my last one a month ago in a cold garage, snuggled up in my winter coat. I liked that one too. I remember liking them all save those few I smoked while suffering from one illness or another.

Why quit now, at age 81?

I have been pleasing my brain for my entire life but at the cost of abusing my body, especially my lungs. I could see the possibility of one day having to choose between breathing and smoking. I already have COPD. Not going to live my life dragging around an oxygen tank, which is why I bought a .38 last summer, paying $700 for my long term health care plan. A bargain I would say.

Still, why not do an experiment? Give my lungs a chance to some healing. See what life is like without smoking. If I don’t like it, I can always go back to it.

My process for quitting was/is elegant and simple: Pick out a date a few months away, occasionally remind myself I am quitting, and when exactly, and why exactly. I was giving myself plenty of time to practice re-wiring my brain so on “that day” I would already see myself as a non smoker. There were times during these months I was anxious for the day to come. I was already feeling like a non smoker.

When “that day” arrived, I quit cold turkey. It was easy. Since then, I hardly think about smoking – to be generous, maybe it has surfaced as a momentary desire a half dozen times during the past month.

I did buy some licorice candy and licorice root (to chew on) because I had heard it helps with cravings. Maybe it does. I like the root best, no sugar plus it provides oral satisfaction while chewing on the root. Nice.

What has not been easy at all, however, is the emotional turmoil I have been experiencing ever since. Ouch!

No energy, no motivation, no focus, no desire. Lousy sleep during the night so wind up taking long naps during the day too. And in the past couple of days, coming down with …. something. Chills, coughing, feeling delicate, vulnerable. I am devouring thousands of milligrams of Vitamin C, Echinacea.

So this is where I am at today.

There is always tomorrow.

Well, usually.