Sunday, April 6, 2008

The River Flows...... And the Present is Always Here

Last week I quoted a saying from an old Zen acquaintance about how the River often flows in a different direction than we expect, meaning, of course, the River that carries us along through our lives. Last week the River shifted suddenly and unexpectedly, and that shift went on happening all during this week and gave me an experience of the Present Moment that was far different than any experience I had ever asked for - or than most people would want, I suspect.

The long and the short of it is that I have been too optimistic for the past 4 years when I say, as I did last week: "Antibiotics took care of it." In fact, it appears that they didn't take care of it. What the current dose of antibiotics revealed was that I didn't, as it turns out, get rid of the Lyme Disease at all four years ago. It is still with me.

It happened like this. I did, finally, get the antibiotics last Sunday and begin taking them. All was well - I know from experience that the probiotics that I also take will mostly keep me from the usual unpleasant effects. But there was a surprise waiting for me. There I was, in my office at night, wrapping up the day and getting ready for bedtime. And I was suddenly struck by what I have since learned to call "brain fog". The chief experience was of being trapped, as the phrase describes, in a thick fog. I wasn't able to think much or plan at all. I was quite lost. All this was accompanied by a great weakness, so I didn't have much in the way of resources to deal with it.

I realized this was going on when I tried to turn off the light and go to my room for bed. It took a moment to come to the reality that I didn't know where my room was. "This is silly, " I said to myself, "my room is right down the hall here" and promptly ran into a wall. So I started in another direction, and ran into another wall. I couldn't get anywhere. I couldn't even figure out where "anywhere" was. So I stepped back into my office. "Focus" I thought. I couldn't. I didn't have the energy. It was too much.

I had the grace to realize that this probably had to do with the drug, and would probably pass, so I sat down in my chair and thought I'd use the time to write to one of my closest friends, to whom I owe an email message. Only I couldn't remember his name, so I couldn't bring up his e-address, and I couldn't think of anything to say anyway. So there I sat. All I had was the present moment - there was nothing else available. Well, I thought, I might as well be where I am, so I sat there, in the night (which I love) being where I was, living with a small intuitive sense of God's presence and a larger sense of my dilemma.

Finally it lifted a bit, and I got myself down the hall and into bed. The next day, as you will expect, I called the doctor who summoned me immediately, which was no surprise. "Oh yes," he said "you apparently didn't get rid of the last case of Lyme at all, and the antibiotic has stirred that up." The brain fog turns out to be my body processing away the waste products of the battle it is fighting with the old case of Lyme. The dose of antibiotics is now larger and will last longer, and I'll have some more attacks as the time goes on. With any luck I will finally get rid of the Lyme Disease. My doctor, who is a renowned expert in Lyme, will keep close watch on that.

And I continue to be thrust unexpectedly into the present moment, with no other resources. At Compline a couple of nights ago, I all of a sudden realized that I was in the second half of one of the Psalm verses and had no idea what the first half of the verse had said. It was a different experience from the drifting away that we all experience in liturgical ceremonies - it was as though the first half of the verse had never existed. So, knowing what this was, I thought: "What's more important, the part of the Psalm where I am now, or the part that I have already said?" and finished the Psalm, not having any idea what it had said, but able to let it locate me before God in the process. And many of the Psalms talk about being confused and lost anyway, so that sense is just an extra added benefit. I can be confused and lost before God.

Let's not make this any more dramatic that it is. I'm not suffering dreadfully because of this brain fog. I'm being well taken care of by my doctor and if I can't remember where my room is, one of my brothers will take me there. The community knows what's happening, and they will compensate. I don't even feel bad, except for the weakness that strikes at the same time as the fog.

I have, however, been delivered into a more intense experience of the present moment than I ever counted on. I never really considered until this week, that when I said "the present moment" I was meaning "the present moment accompanied by all of my memories and potential distractions". It never occurred to me to wonder what the present moment would be like if it were devoid of all my normal mental processes and capacities. Now I know. It's disconcerting. But it's not bad. And it does have God in it, which is the major point. The one thing I'm not robbed of, when I'm in the midst of one of these attacks, is my ability to sit before God where I am.

There is more reflection to be done on this experience, but that will have to wait until my reflective capacities have returned. The succeeding episodes haven't been as severe as my first, but these fogs do appear at times and then I know that all I have is right now. That is something that I am going to want to keep, whatever the future brings.


okiebookworm said...

"I can be confused and lost before God"...what a wonderful insight and gift in these unsettling moments that you are experiencing. So many people live a life in the fog, without God, and never even know it.

Felicity Pickup said...

A dress-rehearsal for old age!? Lucky you [not]!

Having recently seen an older colleague who's reached that stage of old age when there is not much else in life but eat, sleep and frequently experience the states you describe here, I've been wondering if and when I'll go there. Sounds like you'll be better prepared, if and when. And a better chance that God will be there, even if you forget the Name.

Felicity Pickup said...

Worry: is this going to interfere with the 70th birthday gift trip?

Fred said...

Dear Br. Bede,

(This is Patrick Jarvis posting under Fr. Fred Myer's blog)

This column could not have hit more closely to home. At age 36, I was struck by Lyme Disease; it moved in like a bad neighborhood gang and took over my life, stole it, really...brain fog was an everyday reality for a decade, as were searing pain, never-ending headaches, crippling arthritis, loss of motor function, neuropathy, and more. This all culminated when I was 45 with meningitis, encephalitis and a month-long coma; I then lived for almost half of a year in a convalescent age 45.

And I survived it. I am doing so much better now, it's actually something of a miracle....

I found your column to be ironic. Here I am on my end, praying against all odds that the damage left behind is not going to be enough to keep me from the possibility of vocation with the OHC.....and here you are, at the crest of your vocation, being bedeviled by the same adversary, just when you've hit such an amazing stride in your voice and your realization of where God wants us looking and being.

Rather trying to do all that when you're "looking" for your room , or for the correct place in Psalms so you can "be in the moment" in Compline, isn't it?

Most folks have no concept, even when you try to explain, how truly elementary of a level that brain Fog strikes at. This is what makes it so frightening. Once, while greatly impaired, I put the telephone in the refrigerator and the box of butter in the microwave.

It was all becoming so humiliating; finally, a transformation occurred when I allowed myself the grace to be God's child.....God's very, very small child.....and let Christ begin to turn humiliation (which I was dying a thousand deaths of, daily) into humility.

It wasn't easy. I had been a very successful broadcast I had to allow myself the leeway to have a pajama top inside out, because, hey, if your four-year-old did such a thing, you'd just smile and fix it, right? I took that scripture "Ye must be as a child......" to a very real place, and allowed myself the bleepers, bloops and blunders that my harsh adult side had become judgmental and unforgiving about.I entered the Kingdom of God in a way I never dreamed possible in the midst of circumstances I would have generally thought unsurvivable, because God's grace showed me a way, and that way was the way of a child.

This utter dependence on God yielded all kinds of amazing grace. It allowed me to survive that decade...It is, I believe, a huge part of the reason I am now on the offensive and improving, taking back my life. It took me to places spiritually that as a healthy happy person I would never have gone. And once there, God could quietly hand me gifts, but only when I had completely yielded all that was within me holding on to "me", whatever that was, usually through utter weariness of suffering.

But I also feel a tremendous empathy whenever I hear or read of someone grappling with the "brain fog".... There are many theories on why it happens, most having to do with diminished blood flow to the frontal lobes of the brain.

Well, Br. Bede, I am going to drop you a phone call just to make sure you have access to the one or two best research papers ever on the subject; and just in case you want to talk with someone who has certainly "been there"...... you seem well-educated and well-doctored, but if it moves into one more major area, do not delay. Go for the IV antibiotics (Rocephin). If it has been hanging around for four years, it hasn't been sleeping, I assure you. It has been burrowing.

All God's blessings for a speedy recovery, and if you get a chance, please lift your brother in Lyme; I am praying that this plague, which has controlled so many things in my life over the past 12 years, will not stand in the way of what my heart is telling me is so.
In Christ,

Patrick Jarvis
Palm Springs, California