Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Postponed Due to Ice Formations

This weekend, I was planning to post my interview with Jess Row, a Zen practitioner who is included in this years Best American Short Stories.  Then someone in my family got sick...an illustration of the Buddha's First Noble Truth.
Enlightenment available in the gift shop?
Traditionally, Buddha is supposed to have given his first "sermon" at a place called Deer Park in what is now Varanasi, India, a several-thousand-years-old city.  He laid out the Four Noble Truths, the basic principles of Buddhism, which are deceptively simple.

The first Noble Truth is that life involves "dukka"--a Pali word that is  often translated as "suffering," but there's more to it.  It involves acceptance that impermanence (change, illness, birth) is in the nature of all things.

Recently my husband told me he was sad about something that impacts both of us in a similar way (this was before the illness hit). I'm the tough guy in the family--I told him that what makes him sad is for me a matter of thrusting my head forward, moving on, getting the job done...like a solider in combat. Sometimes I like my icy heart; it makes me feel strong.  After we had this conversation, I went upstairs and meditated for half an hour. Right nowI'm using a guided meditation download from Dharmaseed where you pay gentle attention to emotions and simultaneous feelings in the body.  As I sat, I noticed a pain in my chest.  It opened, got a little heavy, shifted a bit, but it didn't go away. When you look for an emotion in the body, it's  hard to locate. Maybe some of that freezing is actually breaking me open.

Sometimes when plants freeze, frozen sap splits the stem open. Capillary action forces more sap out, which freezes on contact with air, causing flower-like formations. If I were made completely of ice, I wouldn't be able to move.

Today, I visited the person who is sick. It's hard to see someone so weak and suffering. We have had a rocky history, although recent years have brought a peaceful, uneventful relationship with no great closeness.  Something odd happened today; as I was leaving, the sick person said she loved me, and then, thinking I didn't hear, she repeated it with great tenderness.  When I got home, my daughter asked me if she had ever said that before. I thought for a while, then I said, "Maybe not."  I cried, then my daughter cried. 

In some ways, it would be easier to write the sick person off as insensitive, uncaring.  If she's lonely, isn't it because she's chosen to isolate herself from other people?  But what affect would that attitude have--on me, on my family, on the situation my husband and I are worried about?

It's pretty obvious that life is impermanent.  A no-brainer. But what is our relationship to that truth?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Monkey Brains, III: From Pema Chodron, Help With Becoming Generous

I struggle with needing things to go a certain way.  Here's what a wise teacher has to say:
The basic idea of generosity is to train in thinking bigger, to do ourselves the world's biggest favor and stop cultivating our own scheme...The journey of generosity is one of connecting with the (fundamental richness inherent in each moment), the wealth that is the nature of everything. It is not "ours" or "theirs" but is always available to everyone. In raindrops, in blood drops, in heartache and delight...
by Pema Chodron

The journey of generosity is one of connecting with this wealth, cherishing it so profoundly that we are willing to begin to give away whatever blocks it. 
From When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times


I want to give a gift to someone I love, because I see--painfully--that I have taken something from her.  Being in a position of authority, I continually exert pressure based on my view of how things should go for her.  What I can do is give her a break. I can practice trust.  Practice isn't perfection. It's...practice!

This commitment cuts to the heart of my biggest weakness.  For me the issue goes pretty deep, of course, but an illustration will suffice: When I am caught off guard, say when I come home from a trip and notice a mess in the house that accumulated while I was away--funny how I notice the small mess, not the large effort others have made to clean up--when the physical environment seems on the verge of decay because things aren't where I think they should be, I feel groundless.  Fearful. I flail around inwardly, and I cope by using my dominance in the family, my verbal acuity, get people to get things to shape up.  It's THEIR responsibility, right? After all, I wasn't there to make the mess.

Insecurity? --Control!

This has hurt the people I live with.

How does generosity apply here?  Offering a credit card, a trip to the mall would be easy, but it wouldn't be a healing generosity.

...the real transformation takes place when we let go of our attachments and give away what we think we can't.  What we do on the outer level has the power to loosen up deep-rooted patterns of holding onto ourselves.  

The strongest urge in myself will be to "yell," to use my considerable skill with language to control and dominate.  I can even get away with this in front of therapists--I've observed it happen!  The gift I can give the person in question is to accept the discomfort of feeling groundless. To sit in quiet meditation with the feelings that disaster will result in her life if I don't intervene.  Just hang out, me and the feelings.  To take the bullet myself, so to speak.  And, life being the messy animal that it is, when I get up again I will have to make the uncomfortable choice to intervene--sometimes.

Sitting with that fear, honoring it for its creative energy (boy, do I get a lot done based on my delusion that I hold the universe together!!), but not trying to control the outcome: all of these are gifts I can give the person I love.

She'll feel the difference. And nothing will need to be said.