I felt an urge to check in here today. It’s been a lazy Sunday, I’m sick with a cold (we all are). I’ve also finally had a quiet weekend, so I got some time to think.
I’ll start by acknowledging the group for getting through this past cycle. There’s a lot to be said for simply soldiering on, and while I don’t know details of how the cycle went other than one-off conversations here and there, I’m sure it was worthwhile and that folks made real progress in their lives. Whatever PSPLife may be lacking, that much has always been true: people make real progress they wouldn’t have made otherwise, and that’s a big deal.
I chose out this time around, fatigued from our group conversations about taking PSPLife to the next level that seemed to go nowhere. As I said in a prior post (a while ago now), I think they went nowhere because staying the same was the only vision there was any actual alignment around, although I didn’t feel aligned to that at first; I really wanted things to be different. Now, I do feel aligned to them being the same. I don’t think it’s resignation, I think I just have a better grasp of the reality of things.
I have a tendency to be idealistic, and while it is often a positive thing, sometimes it’s not. I like believing fantasy can come to life, and I admire people that make things in their imagination come true. That’s the epitome of manifestation, right? But in my own life, it’s been a mixed bag. For example, I like that I left El Paso for Honolulu and landed in New York City, born out of a vision of a future that existed only in my head. I knew no one, and had no ties, in either place; just a fantasy of what could be. On the other side of it, I don’t like that I jumped into a young marriage that was never, ever going to work, and that ended up consuming seven years of my young life. That too was born out of a vision, or a fantasy—of a young marriage that would beat the odds; of young love that would last because we would be warriors who would make it last. It’s a nice and romantic vision, which made it hard to let go of, but the vision and the reality simply didn’t match up (nor could they).
In my first marriage, the reality I failed to grasp — causing me to hang on seven years too long — was how unhealthy we were as a couple, and how we had no clue whatsoever how to be any different. With PSPLife, the reality I failed to grasp was (I think) that in real life, transformation is a sloppy process. For big changes to happen in any one life, many things must align—life experience, personal readiness, peak desire for change, feeling truly sick of the way things are and unwilling to tolerate the status quo any further, etc.
Stated differently, I actually don’t think transformation is solely a matter of choice. I think circumstance plays a possibly significant role (a controversial statement to make to students of this work). To me it’s sort of like falling in love. I met several men pre-Jimmy who were good men — good men specifically for me, even. I could’ve chosen any one of them and had the life I wanted, so why didn’t I? I think I simply wasn’t ready. I needed a few more mistakes to learn from, more time to pass, a bigger build up of frustration and loneliness. I wasn’t willing, in other words, and I’m not sure willingness can be created through forced declarations and choices alone. I think it may have to happen at a deeper level, with many forces being at work.
I mean, I made a lot of drastic changes during the workshops, the main ones being: finishing my divorce, finding new love, and giving up destructive habits. The workshops certainly fueled those choices, but, I think it’s worth noting how ripe I was to make them. I had been living in the pain caused by those things for years. It had gotten very old by the time I stepped into the Basic; the luster of my bad habits had long worn off, and what was left was this unbearable existence (to me).
When I accept that transformation isn’t as simple as having the gumption to make a different choice, the set-up of this group troubles me far less. Idealism and vision are wonderful and necessary, but we’ve also got to live the life that’s in front of us, and I think sometimes there are many steps in between conceiving of the vision of change and the time when you actually make the change. For instance, that vision of lasting love I was seeking to bring into reality with my first husband still lived within me even after that marriage died. But, I was only going to be able to realize it much later down the line with someone else—with a different man, but perhaps more critically, also a different me that did not exist back then.
I guess I have come to understand that I’ve been putting too much pressure on myself and others to “just choose it”/make transformation happen using the work—when it just doesn’t work that way. This is a long way of saying I think you can’t manufacture transformation, not even in the controlled environment of the training room. It is, instead, the result of a series of events and choices that come together to culminate in a meaningful change that may itself take only a second, but was in fact brewing under the surface for quite some time (months or perhaps years). Working the work helps tremendously, I don’t mean to suggest otherwise. Even as I don’t think the work can force a split second drastic change, the work causes you to be aware. When you spend days on end being aware of the thing you wish were different in your life, you eventually reach a tipping point when you just can’t take it anymore, and that’s when the change happens. The workshops accelerate that tipping point, such is their magic, but in regular life — which this group is designed to accommodate — it takes a bit longer.
So, PSPLife is, I think, appropriately permissive in the end. It lets people be where they’re at. If you do nothing during the cycle, you end up with nothing at the end, and vice versa—so too in life. In jobs, school, relationships. We make our choices, and we get to experience the consequences of them, both good and bad—and it’s on us to either learn from these experiences, or not. If you stop and see how your choices caused your results, you learn, and you begin to change them; if you blame others instead, you don’t learn, make the same choices, and nothing changes. The benefit of this group is that several people are going through this exercise together, consciously, and providing mutual support so everyone is held accountable—not so much accountable to completing their goals as staying aware of whether they’re completing their goals or not (and why). It would be hard not to learn more than you knew before after doing that for a couple of months, and in turn it would be hard not to progress some — even as that progress may not be life-altering, at least at first. And I’m okay with all of that now, because it’s the reality of it. The only alternative really is to recreate the workshops, or recreate LP, but this group is designed to be something different; something that functions within the drift (not outside of it).
On a personal note, I’ve been especially disconnected from the work in general lately because my dad, who had been complaining to me about a bad bout of diarrhea, went to the ER and was diagnosed with stage IV colon cancer that had spread to every single organ in his body. As the doctor told my sister and I the night he was admitted to hospital, “your father is full of cancer.”
It’s hard to describe the devastation I felt that day, and in the weeks after. My father is only 70. He doesn’t drink, doesn’t smoke, and has no family history of cancer. He’s blind, but he enjoys his life, and he expected to live to at least 80. I couldn’t fathom him being gone; no more weekly two-hour phone calls, no more talking shop about work, no more calling him in a panic about some life issue and feeling relieved after he would calmly tell me (and convince me) that it would all turn out okay. And it wouldn’t be okay this time.
The worst part was thinking of his suffering, mental and physical. This hit him like a freight train. His symptoms were also pretty bad, and quite painful—his liver, riddled with tumors, was failing. He was yellow from jaundice. Worse, they couldn’t do anything for him; all medications, including painkillers, are metabolized through the liver. Two thirds of his liver had been “eaten by cancer.” Without treating the cancer, which they felt they were unable to do, nothing would improve.
The whole thing was horrifying, and I’ve never felt sadness and powerlessness like that—so deep, and wide, and all-encompassing. It came in waves, overtaking me at unexpected times. I also went through all five of the five stages of grief—only they didn’t happen in order. They hit me repeatedly from all sides, sometimes two or more at once.
At the outset of my father’s illness, the doctors told us he was dying in days. In El Paso, they wrote him off completely; they sent him home to die. We arranged for him to go to a cancer treatment center in Arizona instead, five hours away (he wouldn’t fly), where one of his brothers lived. We did so at his behest; he made clear to us he wanted any chance he had to live. The process was long, and difficult; my sister and I had to be lawyers about it. I don’t really know how people without resources navigate that crap.
The first weekend in the Arizona hospital, they told us it was near certain he was at the end, and if he had gotten to the Arizona hospital even one day later he would be dead. We believed it; he was so weak he couldn’t sit up, he didn’t have the energy to stay awake more than seconds, and he had lost all interest in food and water for two full days. His liver numbers, meanwhile, were those of a man in full blown liver failure. They seemed baffled at the sheer severity of his condition.
That afternoon we all sat crying in a conference room, talking with the oncologists and my uncle. My other uncles were flying in from all different states that night to say a final goodbye to my dad. We went to lunch the next day after they arrived, while my father lay splayed out on the hospital bed in a coma-like state. My uncles grimly told my sister and I that they knew we needed to make cremation arrangements; it was one of those things that just had to be done. We then discussed his funeral and decided that, rather than a traditional wake in Arizona where my father had no ties, we’d do it in California at the pre-planned annual family reunion (a month away). It seemed fitting, as my dad had planned the family reunion for this year himself; he chose California, he chose the beach house we’d rented, and he’d been looking forward to it for months. As painful as it would be, we decided we’d all still go in his honor, and turn it into a celebration of his life.
We all felt so low that day, so sad, so disbelieving. My dad is the oldest of five boys. They lost their mother just three years ago. The only father they ever knew was my dad, who was forced to step into that role for his four younger brothers when their actual father spiraled further and further into a darkness he’d never come out of (and a darkness that would end with him taking a life, not his own).
And now? The outlook has changed. Chemotherapy—which the doctors initially refused to give him because he was on death’s door, and because it had a less than 10% chance of doing anything for him and an over 50% chance of killing him instantly—has, for now, worked. He’s still dying. He’s still full of cancer. But, his liver is now functioning again. He’s able to walk, and eat, and talk without losing his breath. He’s very, very thin, and often very tired, especially after chemo. Still, I’ve had the luxury of being lulled into a kind of denial that things are, for now, okay. I view it as a necessary denial though, to get through it, because none of us could survive things staying as heavy as they were—and the truth is, for now, he is okay.
So much so that, as it turned out, my dad made it to the reunion in California, which was last weekend. He even went to Venice Beach with us, because he wanted to see girls on roller skates. It’s a miracle, truly; he had so much cancer in him there were lesions on his brain. His lungs were so laden with cancer he couldn’t breathe. Every single doctor told us his cancer was so extensive it would not turn around; he had weeks at most, even if chemo worked, and these doctors weren’t being unduly negative or insensitive—they told us this out of compassion more than anything, so we would know, and they did it with tears in their eyes.
So what now, that we have this unexpected gift of time? I call him often. We talk about life. Work, the boys, how he’s feeling. Yes, we’ve had some meaningful conversations, and I’ll remember those forever—and thanks to Mastery, we say “I love you” all the time—but you’d be surprised how much the routine stuff ends up mattering. The nothing conversations. I relish in them. My dad is also back to tweeting a little; he supports Trump, as many of you know, and is very vocal about it (that has not changed). Still, he did give a speech at our family reunion that was maybe surprising. Several of my Texan cousins have married African Americans and had children. The reunion was striking in its diversity as a result; especially since, in addition, my father himself married a Mexican woman, so did one of my uncles, while another married a Philippine woman. My father’s speech was deeply appreciative of this diversity, and of the children of multiple ethnicities running and laughing together, carrying on his family’s lineage. He was inspired by it, and perhaps encouraged. For all the divisiveness in this country, we were a family of diverse backgrounds and political beliefs, and we were functioning just fine as one unit.
We’ll be flying west again soon with the boys, to spend eight days with my dad in Arizona while my uncle is away on a month-long road trip. My dad will have a revolving door of visitors that month: my sister, my mom even, his brothers, his platonic girlfriend. The love and community he avoided most of his life surrounds him now, enveloping him, and at times I wonder how that feels to him.
The long haul flights are hard with the boys, especially since outside of this, our life goes on. I have work, the boys keep growing and their needs are ever-changing, Jimmy has multiple family events, he has health issues of his own (osteoarthritis that he’s begun treatment for), and we need to move into a new house soon. The trips throw off work, our sleep, the boys’ routine, our finances, and currently we all have nasty colds from one too many crowded flights—but it’s just what you do, there’s no helping it, and of course I am grateful for all of it. I didn’t expect to have any of this time with my father. Any inconvenience, any minor struggle, has been rendered irrelevant.
When big things like this occur, things get simplified — for me, anyway. I’ve been far less scrutinizing of my life lately and what’s missing. I am, instead, focused on the big picture, and grateful for the things we have. The time we have together, our health, our boys. It’s an abundance, but of course it’s all temporary.
And everyone in this group (meaning PSPLife), as far as I can tell, has a remarkable life. Special, meaningful, aware, full. You guys have great families, great spouses, great jobs, great friends, endless opportunities,—you get to pursue awesome creative endeavors, fitness, new relationships.
Perspective is a powerful thing; a life-deciding thing. I’m type-A; I live life feeling insufficient and always behind, but not lately. Maybe my dad’s illness is the circumstance I need to actually make that shift, to finally choose to stop focusing so hard on what I’m lacking. I don’t have any illusion that I can live in gratitude all the time (I’m human), but, I recognize now more than before that a life cannot be great if you fail to appreciate it exactly as it is, right now. And, I get that the routine stuff — waking up with the boys, commuting to work, coming home and talking to Jimmy about his day and sharing about mine — matters a lot. I’m going to really miss all of that one day, heart-wrenchingly so, so I need to be here for it now, present and appreciative.
I didn’t really have an ending in mind when I started this post, so I’ll end there I think. But I’ll just say again, you guys are awesome for pushing through the BS and completing the cycle. You’re the reason it keeps going, and in my (new) view there’s nothing off about PSPLife after all. It’s just that life itself is messy, and so transformation necessarily is, too. I think we can’t work against that. We’ve got to work with it, give it room, and PSPLife does exactly that.