Category Archives: Spirituality and Health

Beyond a Job: Doing The Great Work

Adapted from an Interview with Matthew Fox by Mary NurrieStearns

Much of our life is spent in the world of work. Our time, energy, and even identity are wrapped up in what we do and how much money we have. Therefore it is important to explore how work is associated with prosperity. At times, work is a job an exchange of effort for money. But work can also be vocation. When work is vocation, it is where we express our unique talents, find meaning, and contribute to what Matthew Fox calls “the great work,” the work of the universe.

To discuss this subject with Matthew Fox was like finding a gold mine. The author of many books, Fox describes in “The Reinvention of Work” a new vision of livelihood. In his envisioned world of work intellect, heart, and health come together to celebrate the whole person. He is a true teacher of what he espouses. He was dismissed by the Continue reading Beyond a Job: Doing The Great Work

Want to be a plant scientist? Look at a leaf…

FROM: Lab Girl (pp. 3-4) by Hope Jahren. Knopf Doubleday Publishing

labgirl
“People are like plants… they grow toward the light”

PEOPLE LOVE THE OCEAN. People are always asking me why I don’t study the ocean, because, after all, I live in Hawaii. I tell them that it’s because the ocean is a lonely, empty place. There is six hundred times more life on land than there is in the ocean, and this fact mostly comes down to plants. The average ocean plant is one cell that lives for about twenty days. The average land plant is a two-ton tree that lives for more than one hundred years. The mass ratio of plants to animals in the ocean is close to four, while the ratio on land is closer to a thousand. Plant numbers are staggering: there are eighty billion trees just within the protected forests of the western United States. The ratio of trees to people in America is well over two hundred. As a rule, people live among plants but they don’t really see them. Since I’ve discovered these numbers, I can see little else.

So humor me for a minute, and look out your window. Continue reading Want to be a plant scientist? Look at a leaf…

A Caregiver Perspective

caregiverContext:  my wife, Phyl Gerber, was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s Disease on March 15, 2017.  I am her primary caregiver.  The ALS community has shorthand for a person who is a caregiver for someone living with ALS.  We are called CALS (caregiver for ALS) and the person with the disease is a PALS (person with ALS).

I was moved by an essay written by someone who served as a CALS for more than 10 years until her PALS passed.  She wrote on our Facebook Group… “I found myself over the years of caring for my PALS thinking of the phrase, ‘the two shall become one’ and sadly smiling.”  Her essay inspired me to share my own experience as a CALS for Phyl over the past 3-4 years on the same Facebook group which is exclusively for caregivers for people with ALS.  It was written without naming Phyl because the group members don’t know her…  so she is referred to as “my PALS”.

John M. Gerber

August 2019


When first diagnosed, my PALS suffered anxiety, fear, a sense of loss, a feeling of being cheated out of a “normal” aging process, and deep, deep sadness.  As a CALS, my job was to be supportive, to listen, to love, and care for her to the best of my ability… and not to try to “fix her” – which of course was my first instinct.  Early symptoms were merely  annoying; dropped silverware, an occasional trip on a crack in the sidewalk, an inability to open a jar because of weakened hands. Our long hikes in the mountains (we climbed two 13,000 ft. peaks in Colorado) become shorter and on flatter terrain. Bike rides were no longer 30 miles in the hills but 8 miles on the bike path for a fruit smoothie.

Adjustments and adaptation became part of our daily routine, and as long as we didn’t project too far into the future, it was relatively easy to manage. We tried to live “one day at a time” and deal with whatever came up that day.  And while I read as much as I could about the disease…. I had no idea of the trials we were going to experience (and still are) but I began to understand what it is like to know that I don’t know what will come next.

As my PALS began to show more pronounced symptoms, I gradually assumed primary  responsibility for the laundry, dishes, house cleaning, gardening, shopping, cooking, making beds, paying bills, and all the routine things that were once shared by two. Over time and gradually (through trial and error …. lots of errors) I began to assist with more personal things like dressing and undressing, showering, stretching out muscles that were no longer being used, and transfers from a power wheelchair to bed or toilet.

Then there were the disease specific tasks of managing medications, feeding tube, setting up the respirator at night, doctors’ visits and home visits from various professionals, and the most frustrating of all…. dealing with insurance companies.  Fortunately, the changes were slow enough not to throw us into a permanent state of crisis. Each of these tasks was acquired (more or less) gracefully over time and generally with good cheer by both of us. Prayers and an “attitude of gratitude” helped reduce the momentary resentments and frustrations. Sadness was balanced with joy, and fear was pushed aside by faith in a power greater than myself. Gratitude for the things that we have today (family mostly) and have had since I met this 15-year old girl in the cafeteria of our high school more than 50 years ago continued to grow as the disease continued to progress.

My PALS presents a positive attitude to the world.  She is told how good she looks and how remarkable it is that she continues to be active.  She is told “she is an inspiration”… and she is.  And then from time to time, in the privacy of our home, she falls apart and can’t stop crying.  It happens rarely and is more likely to be triggered by “a broken shoe lace” (something minor) rather than something big that needs our attention (like a pill  she can’t swallow or a throat spasm that makes it hard to breath).  As I hold her while she sobs, my (unspoken) advice to her that she should “accept the things she cannot change” then turns back on me and I need to take my own advice.  I can’t “fix her” and I need to practice the acceptance that I preach.  So I just hold her and don’t say anything.  Acceptance is not so easy when its my turn.

Nevertheless, I’ve learned that acceptance of things we cannot change is critical to daily living. Acceptance is not resignation (giving up) nor is it approval (its NOT okay – it is a lousy deal she has been dealt).  Acceptance is a prayer and a practice that allows me to get through the day and often experience a sense of peace and serenity even when things get tough. And then it all falls apart again….

As the disease progressed, the simple daily tasks included repeating what she just told the guy at the supermarket fish counter who couldn’t hear her yell at the top of her voice “one pound of salmon please”, or setting up her amplifier so she could talk to a friend on her cellphone, wiping tears or nose or butt, and setting up a book tape or a TV show to try to ease the boredom.  One of the “dangers” of being a full time CALS seems to be that I tend to think of little other than ALS and “what does my PALS need now.”  I find myself sitting among friends while they discuss their latest trip, meal, purchase, or work challenge thinking “why are we not talking about my wife and ALS, or at least something important like living and dying?”   I don’t say anything.

The person who inspired me to write this post wrote in our Facebook Caregivers Group that we become “one with them.”  Sometimes I feel this way, yet I know this isn’t entirely true.  I can’t suffer the disease directly, although I (think I) would gladly do so if it gave my PALS relief.  She has her own journey and while I can walk alongside, I can’t do it for her.  I am “one with her”… and not.

But something else surely is true.  In very surprising ways, a feeling of oneness has made my love for her deeper in ways I cannot describe.  While I would not wish this experience on anybody, one of the unintended outcomes of the disease has been that we have become deeply connected to each other in ways that people living “normal” lives may not know (maybe they do, but it is not apparent).  I keep “falling in love” with this girl I met in the high school cafeteria…  over and over.  And strangely enough, I have learned much about myself.  I know who I am, and I know what I am capable of doing because I have been “stretched” beyond anything I ever thought possible.

I surely don’t like that the love of my life needs a caregiver…. but I’ve found this to be the most rewarding job I’ve ever had.  And my constant prayer is to be allowed to continue to be a caregiver for her…  for a long, long time…


For more on my experience as a caregiver, see:

https://changingthestory.net/2019/04/12/caregiver-suffering/

and…

https://changingthestory.net/2019/03/30/alone/

A Friend in Deed…

pooh

It occurred to Pooh and Piglet that they hadn’t heard from Eeyore for several days, so they put on their hats and coats and trotted across the Hundred Acre Wood to Eeyore’s house. Inside the house was Eeyore.

“Hello Eeyore,” said Pooh.

“Hello Pooh. Hello Piglet” said Eeyore, in a Glum sounding voice.

“We just thought we’d check on you,” said Piglet, “because we hadn’t heard from you, and so we wanted to know if you were okay.”

Eeyore was silent for a moment. “Am I okay?” he asked, eventually. “Well, I don’t know, to be honest. Are any of us really okay? That’s what I ask myself. All I can tell you, Pooh and Piglet, is that right now I feel really rather Sad, and Alone, and Not Much Fun To Be Around At All.

Which is why I haven’t bothered you. Because you wouldn’t want to waste your time hanging out with someone who is Sad, and Alone, and Not Much Fun To Be Around At All, would you now.”

Pooh looked and Piglet, and Piglet looked at Pooh, and they both sat down, one on either side of Eeyore in his stick house.

Eeyore looked at them in surprise. “What are you doing?”

“We’re sitting here with you,” said Pooh, “because we are your friends. And true friends don’t care if someone is feeling Sad, or Alone, or Not Much Fun To Be Around At All. True friends are there for you anyway. And so here we are.”

“Oh,” said Eeyore. “Oh.” And the three of them sat there in silence, and while Pooh and Piglet said nothing at all; somehow, almost imperceptibly, Eeyore started to feel a very tiny little bit better.

Because Pooh and Piglet were There.

No more; no less.


Author – AA Milne

Illustration – EH Shepard

Non-duality and Cosmic/Christ/Unity Consciousness

QA_nonduality

 Ilia Delio

Ilia DelioNon-duality is the belief that entities do not exist in opposition to one another or separate from one another.  Non-dualism is another name for unity.  The concept of non-duality is ancient and arose with Eastern religions such as Buddhism and Hinduism and the primacy of pure consciousness. Quantum physics has opened up a new interest in non-duality in so far as consciousness plays an active role in measurement and thus in the description of reality.  The physicist David Bohm developed a theory of implicate order based on quantum physics to describe a wholeness in nature. He once said that if our eyes had no lenses, the entire universe would appear as a hologram. Even on the level of biology, we are beginning to realize that wholeness and non-duality comprise nature. Harold Bloom in his book The Global Brain describes the network of life on Earth as one that is a global brain in which each of us plays a sometimes conscious role.    Arthur Koestler proposed the word holon to describe the hybrid nature of sub-wholes and parts within in vivo systems. A holon is something that is simultaneously a whole and part.[i] From this perspective, holons exist simultaneously Continue reading Non-duality and Cosmic/Christ/Unity Consciousness

A Socratic Dialogue on Dying…


FROM Phaedo in Plato’s Dialogues

Just hours before Socrates drank the poison that resulted in his death, his friend Crito asked him;

 “…in what way would you have us bury you?

Socrates replied;

“…be of good cheer… my dear Crito;

and say that you are burying my body only,

and do with that as is usual, 

and as you think best.”  


Socrates was able to consume the hemlock that killed him in a calm and peaceful manner, while urging his students and friends to “be of good cheer”.  Socrates was ready for death to take his physical body and indeed he was an active participant in his own passing.  Most of us are not quite so well prepared.

This past year has been one in which several people I know well have died.  I’ve been Continue reading A Socratic Dialogue on Dying…