Weekly Review Issue No. 18
On mortality alarms, dreaming at the end of life and talking to the cancer that is killing you
Hello and welcome back to another Review. I hope you’ll at least one thing you find interesting, useful or enjoyable. If something particularly resonated, I’d love to know about it.
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What’s alive for me
Well, you may or may have not noticed the weekly review in your inbox/Substack app for a few weeks… sorry about that. The Easter break combined with newly acquired home really put the skids on getting issues out as I hoped. However, here I am again to resume normal services and appreciate you taking the time to read these.
What has remained in my mind the last few weeks is that I’m left wondering about how much time we give ourselves for life changing events. How much we try and resume ‘normal service’ when things really upset our rhythm. I’m thinking big things (buying a house, sickness…bereavement) and the small things (a long weekend, unsettling news in your workday). It feels important to respect the rhythms and beats that we have for our life, and when they are disrupted or changed, that it has an impact. Sometimes I think its because we don’t really have words for it. What is the word for an unexpected pause that mucks up your daily life? A squibble? Being delonged?
All this to say, sorry for the delay, but I’m being kind to myself, and hope that whatever your read below, you’ll find something interesting and thought provoking.
With that in mind, onto the links!
Research on the edges
👵🏽 Ageing and the mortality alarm
Continuing my research into what drives us to seek meaning in our life, particular when faced with our mortality, this is a great perspective on how the death of someone (like a parent) can jolt us into crystallising our concerns about what we are doing with our life and why. It also nicely points out how much of our culture does not support us to really do much work around this.
In the months since my mum’s death, I’ve tried to come to grips with the ageing challenge by speaking with experts, family, friends and strangers. I’ve gauged their views on the denial of ageing, healthy ageing, longevity, disease and death.
The first thing I learned is that, like me, many people experience the mortality alarm in their 50s and 60s. It’s not always triggered by the death of a parent. Sometimes it’s set off by a life-threatening diagnosis or the death or near-death of a close friend, relative or spouse. Others have FOGO (Fear of Growing Old) but haven’t articulated it.
Some people hide their age because they worry about negative judgment in the workplace. And many more are trying to navigate young-older life in ill-heath or with fewer resources than they had hoped for by this stage. It’s a mixed picture, but the anxiety is real.
This is a fascinating profile of researchers looking at how dreams are an important part of the dying experience. From my own experience, it seems to me that we medicalise a lot of the subjective experiences and perhaps too readily put pharmacological responses to something which is
In his studies, Kerr found that close to 90 percent of patients report having at least one dream or vision that could be classified as an end-of-life experience. These dreams are distinguished from regular dreams by being especially vivid. When asked to rate the degree of realism of such dreams, most rate them ten out of ten—the highest degree of realism. Patients often report that they are “more real than real.” They occur both during periods of sleep and periods of wakefulness, and they are easily distinguished from hallucinations or bouts of delirium.
👣 Felt Sense: The Vitality and Liveliness of Our Inner World
This is a great introduction to the field of ‘focusing’ and primes the context for a different way of sensing and being in the world. The struggle I think we have in the West is precisely being driven by our heads, and not having the tools, experience or culture of dropping down into our felt-senses. It comes naturally to us, from birth, so we are specifically interrupting this through our culture. Lots of work to be undone I think!
Although modern Western thought has been quite resistant to this idea, there are other valid ways of knowing things besides our thoughts. In some cultures, people regularly converse about this innate, biological, or instinctual source of knowledge. As owners of living, human bodies, our access to our intuitive felt sense is our birthright! It is where the experiences of pleasure, joy, and liveliness originate.
🚪 A Psychedelics Pioneer Takes the Ultimate Trip (paywall)
The news of Roland Griffiths coming to the end of his life made me pretty sad: he’s a titan of the field and has done so much great things for the world. However, the sadness was quickly replaced by a gratitude that he was willing to share his experience of him facing his mortality given his unique perspective.
So I did a session with a psychedelic and went into that explicitly asking a couple of questions. First, asking myself, “Is there something I am not dealing with?” The answer came back: “No, the joy you’re experiencing is great. This is how it should be.” Then I asked a question directly of the cancer. I’m hesitant to talk about it because it’s reifying the cancer as “other,” and I don’t hold that the cancer is some “other” with which I can have a dialogue. But as a metaphor, it’s an interesting way to probe that question. So I asked the cancer: “What are you doing here? What can you tell me about what’s going on?” I got nothing back. Then I wanted to humanize it, and I said: “I really respect you. I talk about you as a blessing. I have had this astonishing sense of well-being and gratitude, despite everything that’s happening, and so I want to thank you. This process, is it going to kill me?” The answer was, “Yes, you will die, but everything is absolutely perfect; there’s meaning and purpose to this that goes beyond your understanding, but how you’re managing that is exactly how you should manage it.” So then I said: “OK, there’s purpose and meaning. I’m not ungrateful for the opportunity, but how about giving me more time?” [Laughs.] I got no response to that. But that’s OK.
Desire by 69 (aka Carl Craig) is for me an Ur-downbeat techno track. I re-discovered it recently after many years and its like finding an old perfume soaked t-shirt or walking down an oft-frequented street in your favourite city. As Ransom Note reflected, “It’s six simply sublime minutes of the most soulful techno you will ever hear, with a gorgeous string-infused keyboard line that warps like it’s recorded on old tape, and the phenomenal chopped-up break that drops in and takes you away… If music can ever be made with a specific time slot in mind, this is one for 4am.”
Maybe save this for a quiet late evening and let ‘er rip.
69! Fantastic. Follow up with 4 Jazz Funk Classics