The Hungry Ghost: A Biopsychosocial Perspective

Dr Gabor Maté Presentation by Dr. Gabor Maté for the Howard Centre, Burlington Vermont. January, 2017. Dr. Gabor Maté is a renowned speaker, and bestselling author and is highly sought after for his expertise on a range of topics including addiction, stress and childhood development.

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Anyway You Want Me (That’s How I Will Be)


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The Best of Elvis 1956

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Mitakuye Oyasin

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ (All Are Related) is a phrase from the Lakota language. It reflects the world view of interconnectedness held by the Lakota people of North America.[1] This concept and phrase is expressed in many Yankton Sioux prayers,[2] as well as by ceremonial people in other Lakota communities.[3][4]

The phrase translates in English as “all my relatives,” “we are all related,” or “all my relations.” It is a prayer of oneness and harmony with all forms of life: other people, animals, birds, insects, trees and plants, and even rocks, rivers, mountains and valleys.[2]

From work in the 1940s, American scholar Joseph Epes Brown wrote a study of Mitákuye Oyás’iŋ and its relevance in the Sioux ideology of “underlying connection” and “oneness.” He noted how the phrase has been misappropriated and misused as a slogan and salutation by peoples from outside the Lakota cultures.[4]

Francis White Bird asserts that only Lakota can use this phrase because it applies only to Lakota culture.[5]

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Book: “The Lost Art of Heart Navigation: A Modern Shaman’s Field Manual”

The Lost Art of Heart Navigation: A Modern Shaman’s Field Manual

The Lost Art of Heart Navigation: A Modern Shaman’s Field Manual

by Jeff D. Nixa 

Discover your soul’s purpose by following the shamanic path of the heart

• Explains how to engage your heart’s navigational guidance system to access your spiritual core directly and find your life purpose and spiritual identity

• Includes shamanic practices to meet your power animals, consult with spirit guides, embark on journeys in the spirit world, slay your inner dragons of self-sabotage and fear, clear emotional wounding patterns, and find your personal spirit song

• Offers case studies and troubleshooting help for common pitfalls and obstacles on the heart-centered shamanic path

• Includes access to 4 guided audio journeys narrated by the author

Each of us has a vision for our lives, our soul’s purpose awaiting release in our hearts. The most important task we have is to learn what that purpose is and then bring it into the world. In our world of endless busyness and “hurry sickness,” many people are experiencing soul loss as they live out dreams of endless motion, empty tasks, anxiety, and negative thoughts. But you can change your world and discover the shamanic heart path that activates your wildness, your power, and your soul’s purpose.

Blending earth-honoring shamanic practices and modern depth psychology, Jeff Nixa explains how to practice the lost art of heart navigation to help you find your life purpose and spiritual identity, conquer the fear, doubt and criticism that stand in the way of that vision, and become a shamanic shapeshifter of your life. Providing heart-opening exercises to slow your mental racing and detect your heart’s navigational guidance system, he shows how to awaken your wild and free heart, access your spiritual core directly, deactivate trauma-based emotional patterns, retrieve vital energy, work with your dreams, and become an artist of the soul. You will learn how to meet your power animals and consult with spirit guides, embark on shamanic journeys in the spirit world for help and information, slay your inner dragons of self-sabotage, find your personal spirit song, and create the joyful life that your heart is attuned to seek out.

Offering case studies and troubleshooting help for common pitfalls and obstacles on the heart-centered path, this shamanic manual provides hands-on practices and ceremonies–including access to 4 guided audio journeys narrated by the author–as well as wisdom from the author’s own journey and the powerful teachers he has worked with, including Sandra Ingerman, Mikkal, spiritual elders of the Oglala Lakota people, and plant-spirit medicine shamans of the Amazon jungle. Allowing you to understand the precise contours of your authentic self and your visionary heart, this book offers a map to a vibrant new life aligned with your soul and deepest calling.


Book: “The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying”

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

by Sogyal Rinpoche 

“A magnificent achievement. In its power to touch the heart, to awaken consciousness, [The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying] is an inestimable gift.”
San Francisco Chronicle

A newly revised and updated edition of the internationally bestselling spiritual classic, The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, written by Sogyal Rinpoche, is the ultimate introduction to Tibetan Buddhist wisdom. An enlightening, inspiring, and comforting manual for life and death that the New York Times calls, “The Tibetan equivalent of [Dante’s] The Divine Comedy,” this is the essential work that moved Huston Smith, author of The World’s Religions, to proclaim, “I have encountered no book on the interplay of life and death that is more comprehensive, practical, and wise.”


Book: “Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm”

Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm

Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm

by Thich Nhat Hanh 

“Written in words so intimate, calm, kind, and immediate, this extraordinary book feels like a message from our very own heart….Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most important voices of our time, and we have never needed to listen to him more than now.”
—Sogyal Rinpoche

Fear is destructive, a pervasive problem we all face. Vietnamese Buddhist Zen Master, poet, scholar,  peace activist, and one of the foremost spiritual leaders in the world—a gifted teacher who was once nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr.—Thich Nhat Hanh has written a powerful and practical strategic guide to overcoming our debilitating uncertainties and personal terrors. The New York Times said Hanh, “ranks second only to the Dalai Lama” as the Buddhist leader with the most influence in the West. In Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting through the Storm, Hanh explores the origins of our fears, illuminating a path to finding peace and freedom from anxiety and offering powerful tools to help us eradicate it from our lives


Book: “When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times”

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times

by Pema Chödrön 

The beautiful practicality of her teaching has made Pema Chödrön one of the most beloved of contemporary American spiritual authors among Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. A collection of talks she gave between 1987 and 1994, the book is a treasury of wisdom for going on living when we are overcome by pain and difficulties. Chödrön discusses:

   •  Using painful emotions to cultivate wisdom, compassion, and courage
   •  Communicating so as to encourage others to open up rather than shut down
   •  Practices for reversing habitual patterns
   •  Methods for working with chaotic situations
   •  Ways for creating effective social action 


Book: “The Denial of Death”

The Denial of Death

The Denial of Death

by Ernest BeckerSam Keen (Goodreads Author) (Foreword), Daniel Goleman (Goodreads Author) (Foreword) 

Winner of the Pulitzer prize in 1974 and the culmination of a life’s work, The Denial of Death is Ernest Becker’s brilliant and impassioned answer to the “why” of human existence. In bold contrast to the predominant Freudian school of thought, Becker tackles the problem of the vital lie — man’s refusal to acknowledge his own mortality. In doing so, he sheds new light on the nature of humanity and issues a call to life and its living that still resonates more than twenty years after its writing.


Bio: A. H. Almaas

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A. H. Almaas
BornAbdul Hameed Ali
1944 (age 76–77)
OccupationSpiritual teacher, author
NationalityKuwaiti American
Notable worksThe Pearl Beyond Price (1988)
The Point of Existence (2000)
Inner Journey Home (2004)

A. H. Almaas (/ˈɑːlməs/ AHL-məss) is the pen name of A. Hameed Ali (born 1944), a Kuwaiti American author and spiritual teacher who writes about and teaches an approach to spiritual development informed by modern psychology and therapy which he calls the Diamond Approach. “Almaas” is the Arabic word for “diamond”. Almaas is originally from Kuwait. He is the spiritual head of the Ridhwan School.

Almaas’ books were originally published by the Ridhwan School, under the Diamond Books publishing title, but are now published by Shambhala.


A. Hameed Ali was born in Kuwait in 1944. He was a victim of polio at 18 months old and now walks with a crutch as a result.[1] At the age of 18, he moved to the United States to study at the University of California in Berkeley. Ali was working on his PhD in physics when he reached a turning point in his life that led him more and more into inquiring into the psychological and spiritual aspects of human nature. His interest in the truth of human nature and the true nature of reality resulted in the creation and unfoldment of the Diamond Approach.[2]

Diamond Approach

The Diamond Approach is a spiritual teaching that utilizes a distinctive form of inquiry into realization, where the practice is the expression of realization. Its aim is absolute freedom that can be described as living realization, a dynamic enlightenment where transcendent truth lives personally in the world. This inquiry opens up the infinite creativity of our being, transforming our lives into a runaway realization, moving from realization to further realization.[3]

The Ridhwan Foundation is the nonprofit spiritual organization established to support and preserve the integrity of the Diamond Approach teaching. The Ridhwan Foundation is legally recognized as a church and the role of a teacher is equivalent to that of a minister. People are ordained as spiritual teachers of the Ridhwan Foundation, which is the name given to its ministers.

Spiritual practice as a phenomenology of being

The Diamond Approach is described as a “response to an important need that is being felt in many quarters, a need for a spiritually informed psychology, or conversely, for a psychologically grounded spirituality. This perspective does not separate psychological and spiritual experience, and hence sees no dichotomy between depth psychology and spiritual work… This body of knowledge is not an integration or synthesis of modern depth psychology and traditional spiritual understanding. The inclination to think in terms of integration of the two is due to the prevailing belief in the dichotomy between the fields of psychology and spirituality, a dichotomy in which the Diamond Mind understanding does not participate.” (Almaas)[4]

The Diamond Approach, according to its followers, can be called a Phenomenology of Being that offers a precise description of the various aspects and dimensions of Spirit or Being and is also a form of spiritual psychotherapy which seeks to heal the wounds of the soul by reconnecting it to Spirit.

Principal ideas

Structure of reality

In the Diamond Approach, reality is seen as consisting of three elements: God/Being/Spirit, Soul/Self and World/Cosmos.

Being is understood as the inner source and true nature of reality, which is the focus of the great spiritual traditions of both East and West, and is known as DharmakayaShunyataBrahman or Tao. Being is understood as consisting of five co-emergent “boundless dimensions”: Divine Love, Pure Presence, Nonconceptual Awareness, The Logos, and The Absolute.

Soul is understood to be the individual consciousness that connects the world with Being, an idea found in ancient Chinese philosophy. It is believed in the Diamond Approach that the soul can be experienced as a living presence that contains the thoughts, feelings and sensations usually called our “self”.

World is understood as the outer manifestation of reality, the multitude of physical forms that all people are familiar with.

Essence and the essential aspects

While most spiritual paths conceive of Being as universal, the Diamond Approach also pays a great deal of attention to a more individual way of experiencing Being, called Essence. The concept of Essence is similar to the Hindu idea of Atman. While Being is the true nature of all of reality, Essence is the portion of it that forms the true and personal nature of the soul. It is experienced as a substantial fluid Presence which can differentiate into various qualities or aspects, such as compassion, strength, will, joy, peace, love, value, humanness, personalness, identity, and space.[5][6]

Theory of holes

As our soul develops it is faced with a double challenge: it must learn to function in the World, while also remaining connected to Spirit. For various reasons, some innate and others environmental, we slowly become alienated from our Essence through the development of fixed patterns of perception and behaviour known as the personality or ego. Each of these patterns or ego structures disconnects us from a specific Essential Aspect. In other words, it is built around the “Hole” of this aspect. By exploring its structure, both cognitively and experientially, one eventually confronts the Hole and by going through it the lost aspect is retrieved.[7]


The Diamond Approach uses methods which its founders learned from Claudio Naranjo. Almaas’ scientific background (he studied physics at Berkeley[2]) helps explain the emphasis on rigorous (self) inquiry. Several contexts for participation are provided, including regular one-on-one sessions with a trained teacher, seminars and participation in various formats of organized ongoing groups.[8]


The practice referred to as “presence” is based on two methods, learning to sense one’s body (especially one’s arms and legs) in an ongoing manner and regularly focusing one’s attention on a point in the belly called the “kath center” (known in Chinese philosophy as the dantian and in Japanese culture as the hara). These methods help a person to become more grounded in the body and in physical reality and also, in time, to develop the ability to experience oneself as the presence of Essence.


The Diamond Approach centers on practice of investigation of the self, experience and perception. “Inquiry” answers the question posed by Socrates: “How does one set up as the object of one’s investigation, that about which one knows nothing?”[citation needed] One starts by wanting to find out, living a question, while recognizing preconceptions, preconditions and expectations as to the nature of what one may learn and instead attending to one’s immediate or present experience. While not explicitly acknowledged as such, inquiry in effect combines (as a descriptive mechanism only, as the inquiry process is beyond mere language) the practice of Edmund Husserl‘s “transcendental phenomenological reduction, or epoché”, with Sigmund Freud‘s psychodynamic exploration. An important feature of inquiry is that a person learns to be aware of both the content of experience (emotions, thoughts, sensations) and the attitudes and reactions towards it. In this way the subject-object dichotomy is transcended and one learns to relate to oneself without having to create inner splits. Open-ended inquiry is both a path to, and the state of, a realized person and in time is understood to be a self-revelation of the mysteries of Being.


The main motivation for embarking on the spiritual journey in this approach is love for the Truth. “Truth” refers to seeing things as they really are, which ultimately comes down to recognizing Being as the true nature of everything. Love for the truth therefore combines the traditional bhakti and jnana perspectives on spirituality.[9][10]


The fees associated with the retreats and other methodologies that are part of the structure of the school have been criticized.[11] However, the founder and lead teacher, Hameed Ali, regularly[where?] points out that the Diamond Approach is only one path to truth and cannot in itself be all-encompassing. Students are permitted and even encouraged to question the practices of the school and to explore whether the school is a good fit for them personally.

The work of Almaas has received praise from spiritual teachers and explorers such as John WelwoodGabor MatéJack Kornfield and Ken Wilber.[12] Wilber, while tentatively supportive of the Diamond Approach, disputes some details. For example, he does not agree that infants have essential experiences, maintaining that the infant exists purely in the physical, material world – “instinctual, vital, impulsive, narcissistic, egocentric; living for food, its God is all mouth.”[13] Almaas has responded that Wilber’s critique demonstrates a misinterpretation based on Wilber’s own linear, four-stage categorization of spiritual development. Almaas’ perspective is that infants experience a type of true nature/Spirit, but one that is very distinct from, and less integrated than, the experiences of essentially realized adults.[14]

Ridhwan School

The Ridhwan School is a loosely-knit affiliation of ongoing spiritual groups founded in 1976 by Almaas. The school is dedicated to the teaching of the Diamond Approach. It is principally based in Berkeley, California and Boulder, Colorado with other groups throughout North America and in parts of Europe and Australia. Almaas is the spiritual head of the school and individual groups are taught by qualified Ridhwan teachers. The name of the school derives from the Arabic word for “contentment”:

“Ridhwan is a kind of contentment which arises when you’re liberated. Your personality becomes contented when you’re free. Your personality itself is free from its suffering and conflict.”[15]

The school rejects “quick fixes” and graduation, and the students are engaged in learning and inner work for an indefinite period.[16] While some might characterize “inner work” (or spiritual work) as therapy, Almaas makes several important distinctions between therapy and spiritual work.[17]

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Jacqueline du Pre & Daniel Barenboim – Elgar Cello Concerto

Ji Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85, his last notable work, is a cornerstone of the solo cello repertoire. Elgar composed it in the aftermath of the First World War, when his music had already gone out of fashion with the concert-going public. In contrast with Elgar’s earlier Violin Concerto, which is lyrical and passionate, the Cello Concerto is for the most part contemplative and elegiac. The first performance was a debacle because Elgar and the performers had been deprived of adequate rehearsal time. The work did not achieve wide popularity until the 1960s, when a recording by Jacqueline du Pré caught the public imagination and became a classical best-seller.

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Itzhak Perlman & Ashkenazy recording Beethoven’s Sonata No. 10, Op. 96

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Cancer: This ragged claw

It is a crab; no, a worm; no, a wolf. Early physicians weren’t entirely wrong to imagine cancer as a ravenous disease

From Voyage dans l’Amérique Méridionale, (v.IX, 1835-47), by Alcide Dessalines d’Orbigny. Courtesy the Biodiversity Heritage Library/Public Domain

Ellen Wayland-Smith is an associate professor of writing at the University of Southern California. She is the author of Oneida: From Free Love Utopia to the Well-Set Table (2016) and The Angel in the Marketplace: Adwoman Jean Wade Rindlaub and the Selling of America (2020).Listen here

Brought to you by Curio, an Aeon partner

26 February 2020 (

Edited by Sam Dresser

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One day this fall, I came home from work and found, among the usual pile of bills and flyers and mass mailings pulled from the mailbox, a crisp white letter from the hospital where I’d recently had a mammogram. I am used to these letters: one appears every year, a week or two after my annual appointment, confirming my test results were normal, and that I should call to schedule another mammogram in a year.

This year the form letter deviates from script. ‘Your test results were incomplete,’ I read aloud. ‘We recommend you come back in for further imaging.’ My husband looks up from the dining room table where he’s working. ‘Is this something we should worry about?’

The modern English sense of the word ‘worry’ – to feel ‘mental distress or trouble’ – is of relatively recent origin. The original Old English word was much bloodier: wyrgen, to ‘strangle’, or to kill by biting and shaking an animal by the throat. It is the wolf going for the jugular, shaking the lifeblood out of its quarry; the dog incessantly worrying his bone. Other English words denoting mental pain or obsession have similar roots in animal acts of eating or attacking: to fret, cognate of the German fressen, ‘to eat up’. There is also gnaw and, relatedly, gnash from Old English gnagan. It comes to us via the proto-German verb gh(e)n: onomatopoeia for the act of gobbling up by little bites. We are consumed by grief; gnawed by remorse; eaten up with worry.

I glance at the diagnostic code at the bottom of my mammogram letter – ‘BI-RADS 0’ – and quickly google it. ‘A score of 0 indicates an incomplete test. The mammogram images may have been difficult to read or interpret,’ I learn. ‘Oftentimes, women 40 years and older receive scores ranging from 0 to 2, indicating normal results or that abnormal results are benign, or noncancerous.’

‘No,’ I reassure my husband. ‘No need to worry.’

Still, I dutifully return for a second test. After the mammogram, the nurse takes me to a room where I’ll have an ultrasound. I’ve complimented the staff on the upgrades they’ve made since my last visit. In the waiting room, I find iced cucumber water in a glass dispenser and, in the examining room, fluffy terry robes in place of the usual pale-blue paper slips. There is even a bowl of fruit – apples and oranges – cheerily posted on a table outside the changing stalls. ‘I feel like I’m at a spa,’ I quip to no one in particular.

Prone on the examining table, I slip my left arm out of the robe and feel the warm silicone gel slide over my breast and chest. Then the wand, swiping back and forth against my skin. The image on the screen, grainy black-and-white and grey, could be a picture of anything: riverbed, water rushing over rocks; the smear of a galaxy; the salty sea of a womb quickening with life.

As it happens, it is none of the above; rather, a clump of cells the radiologist doesn’t like the look of. A white smudge nestled against the striated black soup. It is round and smooth on one end but juts out with a jagged claw on the other. ‘What is it?’ I ask the doctor.

‘You see, a cyst or a benign mass would be perfectly round – like an egg, or a pea,’ she begins. ‘This ragged edge’ – pointing to the claw – ‘that’s what makes it suspicious.’

‘Is it cancer?’ I ask. It is only now occurring to me that it might be.

‘I’m so very sorry,’ she says.

Cancer has always been imagined as a biting, grasping, greedy beast. Hippocrates (or one of his students) is thought to be the first to name the disease karkinos, or crab, as ‘its veins are filled and stretched around like the feet of the animal called crab’. It was an image that would stick, embellished by physicians more deeply and vividly ever after, as the scholar Alanna Skuse outlines in her book Constructions of Cancer in Early Modern England (2015). Like the crab, cancer was tenacious. ‘It is very hardly pulled away from those members, which it doth lay hold on, as the sea crab doth,’ remarked one 16th-century physician. There was no use in cutting away the tumour, just as there was no forcing a ‘Crab to quit what he has grasped betwixt his griping Claws,’ despaired another observer. Cancer the disease was as sneaky as its namesake. ‘It creeps little and little,’ noted one medieval commentator, ‘gnawing and fretting flesh and sinews slowish to the sight as it were a crab.’

Cancer’s gnawing behaviour led early physicians to compare it to a worm as well as to a crab. The medieval name for the plant-devouring green caterpillar, canker worm, derived from one such metaphorical leap from biology to botany: as cankers on the skin, so cankers in the bud. And just as malignant larvae in plants had to be destroyed before they blighted the flower, so one had to ‘sley the worm’ of cancer when it chanced to rear its head in human flesh. This worm could be quite literal; the 17th-century surgeon Pierre Dionis surmised that cancer was nothing more than a ‘prodigious Multitude of small worms’ infesting its host. A common medieval remedy, the so-called ‘meat cure’, involved laying slabs of fresh chicken or veal on the ulcer, by which to lure the creature out. Could the canker worm be convinced to ingest the decoy flesh, the patient might be spared.

The body obliges, unwittingly nourishing the assassin nestled in its heart

One tale that found its way into an early 18th-century medical manual – acknowledged by most to be apocryphal – told of a cancerous ulcer inhabited not by worms, but by a wolf. A witness vowed that once, in applying a slice of meat to a patient’s tumour, she saw that ‘a Wolf peeps out, discovering his head, and gaping to receive it.’ The existence of a literal cancer-wolf within the body might have strained belief. Still, the analogical force of these animals was strong: both the worm and the wolf made their way into the apothecary’s shop as treatments for cancer. Following the homeopathic principle that ‘like cures like’, one early recipe for a cancer-fighting salve included powdered ‘wolf tongue’ among its ingredients. More common were tinctures that called for ground and powdered worms. Worms harvested from tree bark, then ‘stamped and strained with Ale’, were brewed into a potion eagerly quaffed by cancer sufferers.

Early modern physicians were not entirely wrong in imagining cancer as an eating disease. As the cancer grows, it needs more food. The cancer cells release chemical signals to the surrounding capillaries and veins coaxing them to create new blood vessels, to branch out like a coral forest, delivering life-giving nutrients and oxygen to their blooming colony. The body obliges, unwittingly nourishing the assassin nestled in its heart.

Hippocrates’ karkinos would extend its spindly legs outward through the centuries, its metaphors spreading like creeper vines across the pages of the medical texts that sought to describe and contain it. Cancer is a crab; no, it is a worm; no, it is a wolf. As if the symbol that originally stood in for the disease could not help but mirror the proliferating, perambulating logic of the very thing it named. Words (cells) gone dizzy with division, malignant blooms without borders.

After the mastectomy, after the biopsy, the surgeon tells me she excised the one visible tumour but that the tissue extracted still showed a ‘positive margin’, meaning that they discovered additional cancer cells – ones that hadn’t shown up on the mammogram – at the edge of the cut tissue. ‘The margin is described as negative or clean when the pathologist finds no cancer cells at the edge of the tissue, suggesting that all of the cancer has been removed,’ says the US National Cancer Institute’s dictionary of cancer terms. ‘The margin is described as positive or involved when the pathologist finds cancer cells at the edge of the tissue, suggesting that all of the cancer has not been removed.’

The scalpel is clean and gleaming and precise, everything the cancer is not. It will slice through and extract the cells, like a paring knife scooping a bruise out of a fruit. But my cancer has evaded both the X-ray and the knife, the eye and the blade: a slip of a fish sliding off a hook, a mercury bead scattering at the touch of a finger.

Now the fugitive cells could be anywhere, or nowhere. They elude detection. Absence of ocular proof is no reason at all to believe that the cancer isn’t there; on the contrary, absence multiplies the paranoid suspicion of its lurking presence, as Othello well knew. The surgeon sends my cancer cells back to the genetics lab to measure the chance of recurrence.

So we will bring in the big guns, my doctor tells me, the chemicals and the lasers, to roust this worm from its secret perch. ‘O Rose thou art sick,’ writes William Blake in Songs of Innocence and Experience (1794). ‘The invisible worm,/That flies in the night/… Has found out thy bed/Of crimson joy:/And his dark secret love/Does thy life destroy.’ I imagine the maniac cells coursing through my veins, caustic threshing of rosy flesh, seeking out the crimson bed of my liver, my bone marrow, my brain – plotting their return.

We couldn’t help but laugh at nature’s indifference to our tender rite

A memory: the summer we went to Crete, my daughters and I gathered shells at the sea’s edge. They were beautiful, flashes of white against a bank of shiny dark pebbles. We found miniature conch shells, pulsing orange and pink; lavender sea urchins the size of a baby’s fingernail. Their spongy inhabitants had long since melted back into the saltwater whence they came, leaving behind these bony memorials. When we got home and spread the shells out on the grass, one of them began to shake, made a hairsbreadth lurch, started to crawl: one among the haul was not mineral but animal; not husk but home. A tiny hermit crab had donned a stranger’s skin, a twice-born shell. Its ragged claws peeked out and immediately retreated upon the lightest touch.

The next day when we woke up, the shell was still: its inhabitant tucked up inside, its fortress become a tiny tomb. My daughter wanted to give him a sea burial. She built a miniature raft of driftwood, bound together with some old string we found in the house we were renting. She wrapped the dead crab in a leaf and lodged him in a crook of the boat.

That night after dinner in town, we walked to the beach. My husband lit the funeral pyre with a match and, cupping the flame with his hand, waded knee-deep into the wine-dark sea. He placed it in a trough between two cresting waves.

He had no sooner let go than a foam-flecked swell swallowed the bark whole, downing it in one unceremonious gulp. From the shore, we couldn’t help but laugh at nature’s indifference to our tender rite. A message from the watery waste before us: no, your creature-kindled warmth is no match for me.

Cancer forces you to recalibrate your sense of danger, and the direction from which it might come. Cancer is not the wolf at the door, begging entry of the three little pigs. No; this sickness is an inside job.

Franz Kafka’s story ‘The Burrow’ is told from the perspective of a forest animal who has crafted a perfect underground hideout to protect him from predators. His is a world of frantic quick strikes, snatching jaws, eat-or-be-eaten. He muses on the less fortunate animals above ground, ‘poor homeless wanderers in the roads and woods, creeping for warmth into a heap of leaves or a herd of their comrades, delivered to all the perils of heaven and earth!’ Tucked away in his burrow he is safe; all is still.

Then one night he is awakened by a small whistling noise coming from within the walls of his home, almost nothing, ‘audible only to the ear of the householder’. He scratches in the direction of the whistling, rifling through the soil, breaking up the lumps into tiny particles – ‘but the noisemakers are not among them.’ He steels himself; he will be methodical. ‘I shall dig a wide and carefully constructed trench in the direction of the noise and not cease from digging until … I find the real cause of the noise,’ he determines. ‘Then I shall eradicate it, if that is within my power, and if it is not, at least I shall know the truth. That truth will bring me either peace or despair, but whether the one or the other, it will be beyond doubt or question.’ But such clear-cut knowledge is not to be his. The noise seems to come from nowhere and everywhere at once. No matter where he digs, the noise persists: patient, steady, undeterred. It neither advances nor recedes. This is a threat that refuses to give him a toehold, a purchase, a vantage from which to confront it.

To accept our animal self means to look worry clear in the eye, to size it up, and then choose to wait

The outside world is a noisy, chancy, clanging place, chock-full of danger. This much I acknowledge. As the burrower observes, ‘danger lies in ambush as before above the moss’. But from now on, I know – like Kafka’s animal – I will always be listening instead to that ghost of a whisper coming from inside my own walls.

Still, most days I don’t worry. To be worried to death is, quite literally, the fate of all flesh. The fretting agent might differ, but we all know how it ends: our animal cells, the sick and the well, will sooner or later dissolve back into earth, be eaten up in their turn. To accept our animal self means to look worry clear in the eye, to size it up, and then choose, instead, to wait.

When I’m feeling well, I swim outside in the Los Angeles dusk. The pool is warm, 85 degrees Fahrenheit to the ambient January 60something of this desert climate. One night recently, after I had finished my laps and popped my head up above the blue surface of the water, I heard clutches of birds singing in the surrounding bushes. A low chuck-chuck-chuck: a three-note trill, an impossibly dulcet sound that punctured the air like a plucked harp string, rising above the chatter. This wasn’t a settling-down-to-sleep song. It was a raucous, drunken chorus, like the birds had forgotten what time it was, like the Earth was spinning backwards on its axis. I crouched in the water, still except for my breath, and listened as they poured out their silken throats into the gathering darkness.

To wait is the most anodyne of verbs, a familiar no-man’s land of lost or useless time that threads itself through daily life: we wait in line at the pharmacy; we wait for a thundershower to pass; we wait for a friend to call. This waiting is empty time, a lull in the forward rush of life, of getting things done. It stops us in our tracks and temporarily suspends our power. It can make us feel annoyed or helpless. ‘There’s nothing to do but wait,’ we tell ourselves. Then the prescription is delivered, the sky clears, the phone rings – and off we go again, our power to do and to be mercifully restored.

But there is a larger waiting, a cosmic waiting that precedes and cradles within itself all the other times and modes and tenses of being. It tells us that our puny power to do and to be in this world is the exception, not the rule. Waiting is not the suspension of human business-as-usual, but rather the oldest and most elemental form of time. The modern meaning of the English verb to wait in its most banal sense, ‘to remain stationary’, derives from a trio of Old English verbs: waeccan, ‘to keep watch’; wacian, ‘to be awake’, and wacan, ‘to become awake, arise, be born’. This is waiting as sheer presence, watchfulness, the quickening spark of life. It is ruach elohim, the breath of God, moving over the face of the waters the instant before creation: time before time.

To wait in this way means simply to bear witness to breath, the gift of wakefulness, as it lights up (here, now) in this accidental vessel that is myself. It asks nothing more of the time that remains.

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