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.

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