Wednesday, June 28, 2017

LIVING WITH DYING - Installment 6

 As you can tell by now, my approach to dealing with ‘Living’ (as opposed to Dying) is probably different than yours would be. I can assure you it’s different than I expected. After all, you and I have spent a lifetime assembling what seem to us viable answers. We sort them out, think them through, and keep the ones that seem to fit our circumstances. Then, having gathered those ‘keepers’ together, we tell ourselves that we have created the life-answers that work for us. It was all so logical and straight forward.
 Until that is, we are forced to test those assembled ‘answers’ against a not-so-logical real-life challenge. Are they still a ‘fit,’ even in the face of terminal consequences? A time like that calls for strength and direction. Do those ‘answers’ of ours suffice?
 And of course there will be times when our answers are incomplete---stymied by uncertainty, a lack of verifiable facts. When it come to health issues, whatever our ailment, there are bound to be unknowns. Those kind of trials do not progress on a predictable schedule. Even now, with my first round of treatments completed, I must wait another month or two before the results of that therapy, good or bad, can be determined. Only then can the doctors decide on the next stage of my cancer journey.
 Still, in the face of that uncertainty, and with time to think about such things, I am looking ahead---wanting to identify the hopeful elements of my circumstances, while at the same time seeking the strength to confront the part that threatens to undo me. For me, as perhaps for most folks, that leads me down what I consider a spiritual path, seeking something solid to lean on.
 If you have followed my earlier posts you know by now that I accept the divine as a part of me, instead of a separate ‘other.’ I do believe in the ‘more’ that touches our lives. I believe that ‘something’ has a cosmic connection to our Source, THE Source. And when I need to name that ‘something,’ I call it God.
 Finally, any honest discussion of cancer and its emotional impact must deal with the possibility of death. It is, after all, the 800 lb gorilla most of us cannot ignore. I read somewhere that ISIS counters such concerns by promising to have 26 virgins waiting for each fallen warrior who reaches the Great Beyond. Apparently that works for them, though I’m afraid my arrival would be a disappointment for all concerned.
 In any case, for someone like me the notion of the ‘hereafter’ remains an unanswered question. I accept that after death the Source may well make use of my soul in some way. I am personally attracted to the possibility of reincarnation, as befits one who was weaned on Edgar Cayce and Wayne Dyer. Still, no matter what comes next, I expect I will have to wait until then to find out (or not).

~~~

  In the meantime here I am, coming to terms with a cancer diagnosis, and moving past the initial shock to concentrate on living with that reality. Chances are I will have years to work on that, for which I am indeed thankful. 
  But as I explained earlier, I am not particularly interested in gaining an extended life span simply in order to live longer. I don’t want to score my life by how long I live---but rather, how well I live. Stated another way, I think that outliving the ‘worst case’ of any existential threat implies an obligation to use the time gained in a worthwhile way---to have a reason or purpose for staying alive.
  So let’s take a moment to think about having a reason to keep going, for staying alive. What does that mean? And where do I stand regarding those ‘purpose’ questions I have raised along the way? Have I found credible reasons for going on---one or more personal interests suitable for the last years of an old man’s life? Do I know what I should be doing with those year?
  In a word, or two---”Not exactly.” Still, though it is too soon to settle on the specifics, let me explain where my thoughts have taken me so far. For instance, I have recognized the need to strike a balance, a productive blending of the external and internal elements of late-life into a functioning whole.
  Most of us would agree that family, and the loving attachments it represents to aging grandparents, is reason enough to continue nurturing those connections. Remember, science tells us the reproduction and continuation of the species is a primary function of life. I am quite willing to accept that as a noble purpose. More than that, I can claim an extraordinary level of success for Roma and me. We have certainly fulfilled that reason for being. Our family---four children, eight grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren (so far)---is most certainly a blue ribbon assembly. Not only that, they are showing signs of doing their own part to continue an expansion of the race. (Hurray for hormones.) In any case, score one for our side.
 Yet family is only part of what I am calling my ‘external’ life. Beyond those vital relationships I must also consider the role that friends and associates play in completing a whole and wholesome life.
  It is there, in that ‘friends and associates’ realm, that I sense a definite need for improvement. Though I have been accused of being anti-social, I prefer to label myself ‘unsocial.’ I do like people, but in small doses. I am not one of those who needs a constant stream of human interaction. So, without quibbling over definitions, I can safely say that cultivating my social skills, with an eye towards being a better friend to more people, is something I ought to work on. 
 Is making friends something I can accomplish by simply trying harder?  I don’t know about that. But a person like me, wanting to make the most of his time, ought to be doing more than I am.
  That has me turning to what I call the ‘internal’ side of life---that ill-defined assemblage of mind, consciousness, and soul which resides between my ears, and motivates, evaluates, and directs my thoughts and actions. Although I believe in the value that the ‘inner me’ can add to any life, I must admit that my level of success in those ‘internal’ matters is dubious at best. Too often I have fallen short. Perhaps I can explain.
 Several years ago, in a vaguely remembered time of trouble, I composed a simple prayer, which I continue to revisit on a regular basis. The opening lines of that meditation go like this:

“Thank you, God. Thank you, Spirit. Thank you, Source. 
 Help me I pray, to be an instrument of your intention---so that your intention might be my intention.”

  In those few words I hope to remind myself of the divine God-spark that I believe resides in everyone. In even the best of times I need the help of that ‘Substantial Other’ to make Its ‘intention’ (i.e. its Love.) a prime reasons to keep going. Though I have too-often overlooked the need for that help, I accept that my pleadings are real, and my hope is justified.
  You can tell at a glance that I owe my prayer format to a special hero of mine, St Francis of Assisi. Or perhaps I should say my interpretation of St Francis, because he might not agree at all. In any case, my intent is simple enough. I am reminding myself that it is my responsibility, aided by divine inspiration and guidance, to become the means (the instrument) of living out what I consider the divine intention---i.e. Love.
  Finally, in this early stage of seeking I have identified one other reason to carry on. In the course of the last fifteen years I have invested an inordinate amount of time creating the late-life Tanner Chronicles stories I tell, along with the family adventure tales that Roma and I have written together. For that long I have tried to make those books as real and true-to-life as possible. More than that, in the  process I have learned a thing or two about October and November life.
  Whether or not the resulting stories, sixteen so far, have any literary merit they, along with my October Years blog, have served a personal purpose---a reason to get up each morning and exercise that most amazing of our capabilities---our imagination. I expect to keep doing that as long as I can.
  And that, in a few paragraphs, provides a glimpse into some of the nooks and crannies I am exploring, seeking the best ways to use my remaining years, the ones that seem more vulnerable than they did six months ago. Whether I turn to external reasons, internal reasons, or the stories I imagine into being----these are not grand and noble purposes I am contemplating. Yet they are the ones that pull me forward---the ones I hope will blend my time, my love, and my imagination into a future that honors the time I am given.
  In the meantime, if I can avoid the painful symptoms that cancer is capable to producing, and am able to recover from the post-treatment ‘punies,’ I intend to concentrate on Living in the face of Dying, and at the same time continue to blog about other late-life matters..

 As I close for now I am thinking back to a question I asked at the beginning. Has it helped, telling this still-incomplete story of mine? I believe it has. If nothing else it has provided structure to the way I view my dilemma, while helping turn my thoughts from dark and gloomy to something brighter. 

 Beyond that, putting these thoughts on paper has served as a wake-up call, nudging me toward a more internal, dare I say more spiritual, understanding of how to carry on in the face of an apparent disaster. In the next installment, which will probably the last one for a while, I plan to address my understanding of where that not-so-subtle ‘nudging’ is leading me.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

LIVING WITH DYING - Installment 5

   Do you ever pause to consider the context of the life you are living on any given day? I took a moment this  morning to revisit the first installment of this LIVING WITH DYING story. What struck me at once was the tone of that first post. It was not a good time. I was down in the mouth---caught up in the harsh reality of an unexpected cancer diagnosis and feeling sorry for myself.
I began that post intending to see where this daunting journey, with its overtones of terminal possibilities, would take me. Now, just four posts later, I can sense a distinct change in attitude. The threat I feared at first has retreated to the background---still there, but not nearly as intimidating. Those dark thoughts have evolved from ‘Dying’ to ‘Living,’ and I find myself concentrating more on possibilities and potential, and less on the ’worst case’ trials that may still await me. 
Contributing to that change of heart has been the feedback some of you readers have offered regarding these posts. I made the point earlier that trials like mine are universal. Many of you have experienced the cruel reality of cancer and other late-life tests in ways far beyond what I will ever face. Given that, what right do I have to play ‘poor me’? Instead, I need to deal with the life I have.
In any case, I am ready to move on, with a special focus on what may strike you as a new and slightly different way of looking at a life well lived.

~~~

As I mentioned at the end of the last installment, my reading has led me to a vaguely familiar place, and an expanded, more coherent explanation of what I have long tried to put into words---an understanding that rang true the first time I considered it and still does.
Before we go any further I invite your reaction to one of the author’s primary conclusions. Reduced to its simplest form it reads something like this---our deepest, most soul-felt desires are hints of a divine instinct that already dwells in our consciousness, longing to emerge, wanting to be lived out in our daily life. 
In his recently published book Emergence, Derek Rydall uses as a metaphor for the process he is describing an oak tree---emerging from a tiny acorn to become a deep-rooted giant, reaching upward and outward in all its mature majesty. That seems to me a useful image, illustrating how over time the sprawling oak emerges from its modest beginning.
Still using that graphic image, the author then argues in favor of another bit of existential magic, something I found very familiar. He hypothesizes that every sort of life, whatever its form---flora or fauna---arrives on the scene with everything it needs to become what it is intended to be. Beyond that, he concludes that the human link in that life-chain, the part which includes you and me, begins as a speck of DNA-infused matter that includes a spark of divine energy, brimming with the potential to ‘Become.’
At the heart of Rydall’s logic is the belief that whether it is a forest acorn or a human embryo, with proper nurturing that divinely-inspired beginning contains everything it will require to emerge as the creation it was meant to be. 
In the human example, he surmises that what we see, feel, taste, or touch, every relationship we have---everything that we experience in life---is experienced in our mind, and aided and abetted by that same divine energy. That is, what happens to us ‘out there’ is a reflection of what is in us. I must admit, his understanding of our internally directed ‘Becoming’ seems valid to me.
I hope you will bear with me for a moment as I compare Rydall’s insight to an excerpt from one of my Tanner Chronicles stories written in 2009. When I first wrote this scene I was calling the story “Maybe This Time.” It was the brief exchange I offer here that unexpectedly sent my narrative off in a very different direction, to become the book I published as “Becoming.” 

“Are you sure you want to do this?” I asked, knowing that I was not sure at all. “I’m not exactly a church kind of guy, you know.”
A moment later Maria nodded her affirmation, so I took a deep breath and threw caution to the wind.
“Okay, here’s the deal,” I began. “You talk about a God who has rules for every step you take---who comes down hard on you when you break those rules.“ That had her nodding her agreement. 
“But the God that makes sense to me,” I continued. “The One I can accept, gives us the freedom to be ourselves and even expects us to play a part in what It is creating.
“Let me explain if I can.” By then my unfamiliar role as spiritual advisor was growing more uncomfortable by the second. “What I think of as God gives every single thing that It creates all that it needs to become whatever it’s supposed to be. 
“And once It’s done that, It sends that creation off to become that intended ‘something.’ That is true for a tree, or a flower, or an animal. They all use what they’ve been given, doing their best to become what they are meant to be. And I believe it’s that way for people too.
“That’s what I think we’re supposed to be doing here,” I added, hoping I had not lost touch with her. “We are ‘Becoming,’ and as long as we live we will never outgrow the need to continue our becoming. Along the way, part of that job is to learn what it is we’re supposed to do or be---that might be a caregiver like you, or a storyteller, or anything else. The main thing to remember is that we already have everything we need to be whatever that is.”
With that I had pretty much exhausted my God-thought repertoire.

Small wonder I found Derek Rydall’s hypothesis so compelling. He had taken an idea I had been selling for years, dressed it up and made it presentable. To be clear, he stresses that success in any ‘Becoming’ venture is never guaranteed. Life’s fragile emergence, whether a sprouting acorn, newborn child, or a November octogenarian, begins with a vessel of potential---awaiting the nurture, care, and circumstances necessary for its becoming.
Where Rydall departs from the spiritual logic most of us were taught as youngsters, is the role of an external deity in that emerging life cycle. An ‘up-there,’ ‘out-there,’ ‘behind-the-curtain’ God to whom we address our prayers and make our pleas is not part of the ‘emergence’ he describes.
If I interpret him correctly, Rydall’s vision of the Divine (a concept he readily accepts) does not include a heavenly scorekeeper who hears humanity’s prayers, then distributes them into files labeled ‘granted’ and ‘not granted.’
I admit that I appreciate the way he faces those stumbling blocks head on---moving beyond a God who makes such arbitrary choices. He addresses the age-old rationale that ‘God knows what is best for us’ by simply asking, “What kind of god has all the answers at hand, yet offers them to only some petitioners---perhaps the ones who believe the right truth or worship the right god? And what kind of god allows children to starve by the thousands, or tens of thousands? "
Instead of petitioning that external ‘Heavenly Father’ to help us find our way, Rydall turns to the divine God-spark, the soul-deep inheritance of our birth, that he suggests already resides within us. It is, he claims, that bit of God-magic---our divinely-inspired higher-self---that enables our emergence, by giving away the treasures we already possess---our love, caring, and kindness.
Rather than turning to a remote, out-of-reach God for direction, he insists that we---as spiritual beings who are living for the moment in a material world---have, with proper nurturing, the means to use our inherited gifts, the Divine within us, to fulfill our own destiny. I will confess that his logic rings true for me. Once again, I don’t expect everyone to agree.
So here I am, looking November right in the eye, trying to convince myself I ought to keep Becoming, even at my age. More to the point, how should I use the time I have, time that seems more vulnerable than ever before? And of course I am not the only one asking those questions. Every one of us is in that ‘limited time’ universe, aren’t we? I can’t speak for you. But I want to spend that time doing the right things---hopefully emerging as the person I was meant to be.
In that case, if I am to move beyond an “Ask and you shall receive” God to follow the Divine-spark I have carried in me since birth, how will I know what path to take? I have, after all, arrived at this point in search of a reason to keep going in the face of what has the feel of an existential roadblock---a cancer diagnosis.
Thankfully, I can sense my late-life seeking coming into focus---as though I am finally asking the right questions. A good thing too. For all I know I may be running out of the time. (Though hopefully I can keep going for years.) In that case, I had better get to work, harvesting my remaining potential---and exploiting the life-possibilities I have yet to live out. Before I can do that, however, I need to get a better handle on what those ‘possibilities’ might be. Obviously it is time to begin that search.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

LIVING WITH DYING - Installment 4

 I am eighty-years old. Even with the best of health, my productive future is probably limited. Still, in the face of a cancer diagnosis and the vulnerability that suggests, I am anxious to make the best possible use of whatever time I have. 
Though it has taken me a while to reach this point, it feels like things are finally coming into focus. While the doctors and the disease are at war with each other, using me as their battlefield, there is only so much I can do on the medical front. In that case why not concentrate on things over which I have some control, at least a little bit? It is time to deal with life beyond cancer.
I understand, of course, that it would help to have a reason to keep going in the face of my troubles---a reason beyond simply staying alive. If my only goal is to exist for another month or another year, what will I have to show for that a month or a year from now?
Truth be told, I have seldom thought in those terms. But the more I do, the more it seems that what matters most is not how many days I hang around, but rather the use I make of those days. 
But how do I do that? What worthwhile ‘something’ can an old fossil like me accomplish at this stage of the game? And if I don’t know, where should I turn for those answers?
Bottom line---I want to spend my allotted time doing the right thing. Chances are that means returning to the spiritual side of life that I mentioned in the last installment.

~~~

By now the gut-wrenching shock of a cancer diagnosis is wearing off, and my thoughts are turning to Living, rather than Dying. Two months ago, still bogged down in a post-surgery funk, my dark thoughts viewed the time I might have left as a very limited and very precious commodity. Now, with the first round of treatments behind me, my perspective has changed. The time I have left  (which I expect will be numbered in years, not months) remains just as precious, but my priorities are different.
It seems that mankind, from the beginning of the species, has tried to identify and connect with the nebulous mystery of ‘divine energy’---that hard-to-define ‘more’ which touches our lives in ways we struggle to express. Throughout recorded history, in every corner of every continent seers and shamen, gurus and mystics have created mythologies and sacred stories, cults and religions to better understand the mystery of the divine.
Whatever explanation we accept as our personal answer, and whatever name we assign to it, I have said before that I believe there resides in each of us a bit of God-spark, a DNA-like gift of birth. That in turn is part of another great mystery---how the complex and complicated person we have become, including that divine inheritance, could have been encapsulated in the microscopic bits of sperm and egg from which we emerged.
I have read, and perhaps you have too, that some folks believe our God-inheritance is linked to a companion possibility---the notion that our earthly incarnation includes a particular reason for our being---a ‘something’ that our time here is meant to accomplish. 
That possibility is especially intriguing at this stage of late-life, as I cast about for the best way to use my remaining years. I have been thinking those thoughts lately (it is hard not to)---about a ‘something’ that I ought to be doing, or at least trying.
I will admit that from time to time I have patted myself on the back for my self-judged virtues, congratulating myself for my occasional good deeds. (I tend to forget the not-so-good ones.) Those moments, however, certainly fall short of being a ’cosmic reason’ for my existence.
In fact I have always found the idea of a specific reason for my being hard to accept. It has the ring of a simplistic ‘churchy’ answer---with overtones of a micromanaging God. Truth to tell, I am not a God-fearing person. I make no secret of my belief in the Source, or Spirit, or God that dwells in me. But in my mind the presence of that Love-based essence is not something to be feared.
So it was, without a better answer, my gloomy diagnosis had me mired in a doubting limbo---until the night I lay in bed, letting my half-awake thoughts take me where they wanted. Apparently 'where they wanted' was what I accept as a minor epiphany which arrived in the form of a single word---one that I repeated to myself several times, to be sure it would not be swallowed and forgotten by a night’s sleep.
“Potential.” That is a fine word, isn’t it? In a world that longs for exact, succinct answers I can accept ‘potential’ as the raw material from which to construct one or more reasons for moving ahead---a logical step toward finding the ‘something’ that fits me.
Like I said, the possibility of a single life ‘purpose’ is hard for me to wrap my head around. It sounds so concrete, denoting a certainty I have rarely felt. ‘Potential,’ on the other hand, has the ring of ‘what could be’---hinting at a range of possibilities which might set me on the right track. Beyond that, it is something I have experienced myself. I know a thing or two about potential. 
After all, we have four children, four living and breathing examples of individual potential. We knew from the beginning how different they were from each other. As they grew each of them exhibited his or her distinctive characteristics, drawn to become themselves---and exploiting their unique potential. 
The more I pondered that ‘potential’ notion the more it sounded like something worth exploring. Though it was rather late in the game, the notion of a reason to keep trying was coming into focus, arriving with a clarity that perhaps comes with age. 
Despite a history of what I considered well-intentioned doubt, my personal search was leading me toward new understandings.
  I was following my long-held ‘Becoming’ rationale back to its roots---confirming the possibility of a divine organizing spirit, my own God-spark if you will. Though I still struggle to understand what that means, I am less willing to consider my arrival at this time and place as a totally random event.
That in turn has me wondering. Are these simply the wishful thoughts of a tired old man trying to wring answers from a late-life crisis---wanting to know the best way to use his remaining time? Perhaps so. Yet I am persuaded that there might be a potential reason to keep going---a valid ‘true north’ by which to set my internal compass as I face a new and daunting challenge.
So, you might ask, what was it that helped cement my belated acceptance of a potential reason? Actually it was a book---authored by Derek Rydall, entitled Emergence, which seemed to elaborate on my own primitive thoughts.
As I read Rydall’s case for fulfilling our potential---the way he explains how our ‘Becoming’ (which he labels ‘Emergence) requires us to ‘give away’ the love, kindness, and caring we already possess, his logic rang true to me.
I have long believed that even in my personal November, (at least I hope it is) I am still in the process of 'Becoming.' I have written whole books advocating that reality. Beyond that, it feels like I still have the time and energy for another lap or two---if I am willing to try, and can determine a positive course of action. 
Without knowing for sure where this latest obstacle is leading me, or whether my eighty-year old body is good for another year or another ten, I am determined to wring all the meaning I can from the years I am gifted.
True, the results of my future efforts, whatever they are, will not look like the good old days. But hopefully my ‘trying’ will confirm that even in late-life we can reach down inside ourselves to set in motion another bit of the divine energy that has kept us going this far. Perhaps Mr. Rydall is showing me how to do that. Hopefully I can explain his logic in the next chapter.


Tuesday, June 6, 2017

LIVING WITH DYING - Installment 3

Most of us have spent a lifetime learning to avoid, or at least ignore, the possibilities we would rather not think about. I know that I have spent that long---eighty years in my case---dancing around what I would rather not think about, even when I know in the depths of me that I, like everyone, will at some point come face to face with it.
And here it is, right in front of me. Except at this early stage it is not a painful, debilitating disease that has me stressed, but instead waves of insistent dread, gloomy mind-pictures of what it might become. 
Though I have never thought of it that way before, my new situation includes hints of a new reality---a sort of psychological warfare. There is no doubting the cancer diagnosis, though I feel okay---except for the way my weekly therapy treatments are wearing me down---the expected result of another sort of warfare, bacterial in nature, being waged inside me.
But at the same time I am learning that even without the pain and discomfort of a more advanced cancer, the worry and fear that accompany such an intimidating diagnosis creates its own unsettling form of distress.
For too many of us the discovery of cancer carries the unspoken connotation of a death sentence, though we know in this day of modern medicine that is increasingly not the case. Still, learning that you are hosting such an unwelcome intruder is bound to have a powerful emotional impact.
But in fact, beyond providing the battleground for their continuing therapeutic combat, I have little control over the maverick cancer cells that have become a part of me. Instead, I am left to deal with the fearful premonitions that try to dominate my thoughts. Until, that is, I realized that as long as I concentrate on the “Dying” part of LIVING WITH DYING I will never get past those dark times. It is, I decided, time to focus on “Living.”
Hopefully the internal resources I have cultivated over the years will help me move past those depressing moments and deal with what comes next.

~~~

Predictably, my first reaction to the doctor’s blunt diagnosis had focused on the down side. After all, I could be facing the real deal, perhaps for all the marbles. What was the most appropriate response to that sort of dour prospect? When I finally calmed my distracted mind-chatter long enough to ask that question, I found myself turning inward---hoping to find the reinforcement I need to deal with the emotional side of my disease.
Truth to tell, I have been there before, seeking that same elusive help in times of more mundane crisis, the sort that everyone faces in the course of a lifetime. Now, however, my overactive imagination has me thinking in terms far beyond ‘mundane, everyday’ challenges. Truth to tell, I am in serious need of renewed hope.
I have spent a lifetime creating my personal understanding of what life is like. Most of us do that. After all, the concerns we deal with are universal. Yet now, in the face of new, unyielding questions, how can I be sure my personal conclusions are adequate? No matter how confident I am in my stumbling answers, the fact remains that never once have they been tested by the harsh reality of life’s ultimate circumstances---not the way they might be by this latest dilemma.
How could I know if my fragile answers would suffice? 

~~~~

Early on I realized that my muddled thoughts were leading me in circles. It was time to move beyond those ‘fragile answers’ and seek a connection with something more substantial. More to the point, I need to integrate that ‘more substantial’ part of me into the unsettling real-life events that are invading my world. 
For most of my adult life my personal connection to that ‘more substantial’ part of me---the divine instinct which I accept as very real, has been through prayer. I suppose it is that way for most of us. After all prayer, in one form or another, is as old as our species. The range and scope of the ways mankind has devised to connect with and influence the Divine source it calls ‘God’ is truly amazing.
But of course prayer is a human activity---by, for, and about the person offering his or her prayer. No matter how we envision the God we are praying to, it is hard to imagine that He, She, or It requires our prayerful input, no matter how heartfelt or elaborate it might be. 
More to the point, it might be argued that for all their other virtues our prayers, on average, are not all that persuasive. If an actual ‘prayer score keeping’ was possible, I’m guessing that most of our stumbling prayers go unanswered, at least when measured by our selfish, all-too-human intent. 
The fact is, we pray for our own very personal reasons---to acknowledge our reliance on something beyond ourselves, to receive the rewards we are seeking in the form we want, and sometimes for nothing more than the way it makes us feel to connect with the Source.
I plead guilty to that, on all counts. I think of prayer as a hoped-for union with the divine that resides in me. I envision it as an internal dialog, where I---(1) hope to intuit the divine will, (2) give thanks to the Source of life for all I have been given, (3) express my intent to be an instrument for turning the potential I have been gifted into a worthy result, and finally, (4) remind myself that love is the greatest gift, to give and receive.
Beyond that I have no religious formulas or liturgical forms in mind. My prayers are not intended for a God who hides “up there” behind a curtain, pulling levers, deciding who will be favored and who will not. Rather, I am inclined to turn inward, seeking the divine that I believe resides there.
You see, by this time of life my admittedly amateurish soul-searching has convinced me that I, like all of us, arrived on this earthly stage with everything I needed to become the person I was meant to be. Whether or not I have made use of that potential is a different matter---the product of my free will and willingness to try. Did I mention that I don’t necessarily expect you to agree with that?
In any case, I know that I have squandered much of my inherited potential along the way. Too often I turned left when I should have turned right. For too long I was busy with other matters---concentrating on grand schemes and great adventures---places to see and things to do, escapades that would confirm my daring-do and make me feel alive. Truth is, it took me longer than necessary to stumble onto what I have come to accept as the right path.
More to the point, along the way my priorities have changed. In the face of my new circumstances and what I hope are more-mature thoughts, I am less inclined to worry about “daring-do,” and more interested in making the most of my remaining years---using that time wisely, wringing all the meaning (I call it ‘Love.’) I can from a lifetime of events, relationships, and memories. 
Those are the concerns that have me longing for the deeper understanding I hope to find in what I am told is my soul. Is there, as I want to believe, a sacred spark of God-stuff residing there? If so, will I know it if I find it? Most important of all, no matter how I imagine what I am looking for, and whatever name I give it, can it sense my pleading prayers and respond?
So here I am, once again in pursuit of “my spiritual side.” I have tried that before, you know. We’ve all done that in our own way. But what I found there in times past is probably not enough to arm me for what I am about to face. That in itself is not so surprising, given the half-hearted extent of my earlier efforts. 
What I need now is a new and more effective means of bringing that soul-based potential to the surface. Instead of waiting for a far-off God to aim His sometimes-fickle favors in my direction, my challenge is to facilitate the emergence of what is already inside me, waiting to be liberated---to carry on with the life I am meant to live. Can I do that? 

Beyond that, the question is no matter how long the fates give me, how will I make the best use of that time? I tell myself that I ought to be more concerned about misusing the time I have, than running out of time. In a word, I want to believe that I am still “Becoming,” even in November and beyond.