I get by with a little help…

The Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in my duodenum is back, same place, same size, same everything (as far as we can tell). Details and treatment plan and a lot of spiritual calisthenics to follow.

But I mostly feel like Joe Cocker here.


Sashiko and ritual crafting

Photo by Sake puppets

Lately I’ve found that crafting is an excellent activity to turn into ritual because crafts requires patience and concentration, especially (for me) anything related to sewing. There’s something deeply satisfying about watching something grow from a rough sketch on paper into a final completed product, and the ritual part comes into play when it touches upon crafts that have been done for generations.

I’ve never really quilted, but I’ve read a lot about the power of quilting, including the communal ritual of the quilting bee (a good example is in the movie How to Make an American Quilt). In these spaces, women got together for storytelling and community-making as well as creation. When I lived in Portland in the early 2000s, a local bar threw a craft night. People would come and bring whatever they were working on, drink beer, and make stuff. There’s a buzz that comes from both beer and creation, and they went well together.

Photo from Firefighters of Edo

Recently, I ran into an article about Japanese quilting, known as sashiko, that fascinated me. Much like the original intent of western quilting, sashiko developed from the need of agrarian people to reinforce and strengthen commonly-available indigo cotton. Over time it developed into a gorgeous artform.

It’s deceptively simple, made from a running stitch in white thread over indigo fabric, but the power is in the final pattern. The patterns are usually geometric, and Wikipedia lists a number of patterns that have been developed over time to become traditional forms. In modern times, it looks like people have developed very playful ways to use it too, like in these very cute sashiko patterns for kids.

Photo from Etsy

It seems like something simple enough to do with a kid for practicing running stitch, but as complicated as we’d wanna make it.

[So how do you turn something into a ritual? You use principals of meditation to bring all of your attention into the present moment, and yet realize that everything you are doing connects you to the past and future. The moment is like a bead on a string! This is a short explanation, but I’ll weave it into future posts. (You can read more about meditative awareness here.)]

If you’d like to read more about sashiko, here are some links:

Guest post at Laughing with Broken Eyes


I don’t know if this is motivational or depressing (I hope it’s motivational), but Ms. Modestjune published something that I wrote as a guest column in her blog. Her basic question was, why are you perfect as yourself? My answer: because you aren’t dead.

“The important part was that during cancer, I realized that this body was everything. The whole entire world was mine, because I had a body that lives in it, experiences it, and feels it. The life in my body, and all of the health in it, was more important than all of my insecurities combined.”

You can read more of my post here at her blog, Laughing with Broken Eyes.

Six month reality checkup

An internet acquaintance that I’ve never met was in remission from cancer, and now he is not any more. Instead, he’s dying from it. His farewell blog post, gently trying to get his friends and family to accept it, is over here. He’s 29. He talks about how he’s had a wonderful and full life, and how he feels like he’s lived as well as he could. It’s beautifully written in Swedish, and worth translating.

People often tell me that I’ve kicked cancer’s ass. Nothing is ever this simple. You can’t fight a disease, not really. You can just do what you can for your body, and if somehow the disease goes away, it’s a result of medicine and prayer and research and hard work, but ultimately it’s a miracle.

And then sometimes you “lose,” and you die. Considering that disease is part of the body, and that you walk with your body through your life until it gives out, is it really losing? At a certain point, winning is about living as hard as you can while you can, loving it all and letting it go.

A lot of people are sleeping through life with none of these fine reality checks telling them to live more consciously or be more awake. Perhaps that’s ultimately the usefulness of disease, providing us with that cattle prod to enjoy every second because none of it is guaranteed. We all live until we die, whether it’s tomorrow or a few years from now or a few decades.

I’m thinking of this acquaintaince today because it’s my six-month mark of being in remission. I’m scheduled for my endoscopy soon, in two weeks, to see if the cancer that was in my duodenum is still gone. I’m humbly hoping for the same miracle, for more life, enough to do all of the things that I want to do. But this is always the lesson I take away from this experience: if you’re procrastinating anything, stop. It’s time to live, right now.

The Halloween Tree

Buddhist or not, Halloween is my favorite holiday of the year. I love it because of its ties to ancient rituals of transformation. On this day (much like during Mardi Gras), people are encouraged to break out of their ordinary roles and play with being different. This is a strong reminder that life, much like the year, ends, and it’s a perfect time to shuck off the leaves and dead branches and try different ways to grow.

But mostly I love Halloween because I get to dress up and eat candy.

My child and I start preparing for Halloween the way most people prepare for Christmas (which means we began the second we could pretend it was Fall). (Which takes a lot of pretending where we live!) Last year we put up window decorations. This year, inspired by a page from the Martha Stewart Halloween magazine, we decided to make a Halloween tree.

First we walked around the neighborhood and found a likely menacing-looking branch. Then we spraypainted it black with a craft spraypaint meant for wood. (Photo above.)

It didn’t take long to dry, and it already looked creepy!

Then we stuck it in a mason jar full of rocks to keep it from falling over, and decorated it with a handful of plastic insects that my kid keeps around the house. (Don’t ask.)

We’re still working on decorations, which include ghosts made out of cheesecloth and fluff, pipe cleaner bats, and origami blow-up pumpkins, but that’ll have to wait for next weekend.

Until then, I sincerely hope you’re all getting ready for the BEST HOLIDAY of the year!