Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Watts: Yes, it's just that simple, and you can't get there from here

One of those great library experiences, browsing the shelf, led me to check out an early essay by Alan Watts, The Way of Liberation in Zen Buddhism (1955). The Libraries' copy is one of the original publications, pretty well-worn, a pamphlet really, but it's got a great feel. You can sense its history in the marks on the cover that show that it was earlier taped,

in the inscription inside that shows that Maud gave it to Nancy in June 1955, and in the simpleness of the layout and type.

Watts wrote the essay as the first in a series of monographs published originally by the American Academy of Asian Studies, established four

years earlier in San Francisco, and, in 1954, affiliated with the College of the Pacific. He intended to "clarify the experiential content of Zen Buddhism, in view of the growing interest in the subject among Western psychologists and philosophers" (preface).

This short essay packs a lot in. It's a marvelous description of the methodology of an Eastern undertaking that we in the West can't quite fit into any of our niches -- neither religion, philosophy, nor psychology. He describes it as a way of liberation, rather than any of those other things.

Liberation from what? Well, from "an idea which crops up repeatedly in the history of philosophy and religion -- the idea that the seeming multiplicity of facts, things, and events is in reality One, or, more correctly, beyond duality" (pp. 3-4).

But can an ordinary person experience the state of non-duality, given that our normal psychological way of perceiving anything is by contrast with something else, that is, through duality? How do we get from ordinary experience to the state of non-duality?

Watt describes the four paths down which Zen masters typically send aspiring adherents, and how it is our very linguistic dependence that leads us to the realization of non-duality. In other words, our logical, language-based, linear, left brain ways of understanding non-duality lead to rejection of the question because each path to understanding non-duality leads to a nonsense dead end. For example, the first path, "all things are in reality One," leads us to try to mentally obliterate all differences, to say yes to all experience, for example, to say to ourselves that there is no difference between the Buddha and a movie star, that all is Tao, which normally makes unity seem absurd, which also is Tao...

The path, "all is Void (shunyata)," leads us to say no to all there is. Mu, the sage's "does not have" answer to the koan question of whether a dog has Buddha nature, illustrates this path. The student simply says no to everything, including the saying of no. Again, nonsense.

The path, "just accept yourself as you are and make no effort" similarly leads to collapse. Even the desire to make no effort is an effort.

The typical fourth path turns the question back on the questioner, directing him or her to look at who is questioning, who is uncomfortable, to feel what feels, to know what knows, to make an object of the subject (p. 8). But this too proves impossible. The Buddha can't seek after himself.

In short, the root of the problem is the question (p. 9). If you do not ask the question, the problem will not arise.

Ultimately, trying very hard (to exhaustion!) linguistically to understand non-duality makes clear that what we seek is impossible for us. We come to understand instead the "radical impotence of the ego." We are truly helpless. When we give ourselves up for lost -- when we surrender -- only then, paradoxically, does our desire to know Oneness, our desire for relief from separation and duality cease of its own accord.

And in the midst of this relief we see that life is going on all around us, and there is no rigid boundary between that life and the ego-less me. The breath is an effective illustration of the essential unity between our voluntary and involuntary actions. Down goes our conventional distinction between voluntary and involuntary actions, between body and mind. Even our willing or deciding something, a clearly voluntary act, has an involuntary aspect (before conscious decision), or else we would have to infinitely decide to decide to decide...

From this perspective, the 'All is One' path makes sense, as do the other three. But not until we've lost ourselves first. It is an example of the, "you can't get there from here" conundrum. We really can't see the unity of all, or the void, or that we need make no effort, or that there's no self to question, with our left brain, because by nature it believes we are separate and in control.

Zen places the focus on experience always. Even the ultimate koan about whether 'the One is really it' prompts a right brain, non-linear, illogical answer: "When all dualities have been reduced to the One, what does the One reduce to?" -- the master says, "9 pounds of flax" (the weight of a linen robe). There comes a point when we must drop thinking about it and just see. For Westerners, reflection and action are another conventional duality. In Zen, they are essentially the same. We think and act, rather than get caught up in an infinite regression of standing outside our lives, reflecting upon reflections, upon reflections. "In acting just act, in thinking just think. Above all, don't wobble" (p. 15). We don't have to reflect about reflecting. "Zen is also liberation from the dualism of thought versus action, for it thinks as it acts -- with the same quality of abandon, commitment, or faith" (p. 15). The same is true of feeling.

Consider the question of when to stop thinking and to act. We can never be certain we've done enough or too much. Long story short: the only certainty is death. Other than that, all is uncertain. And that 'all,' that includes us. That uncertainty is our very nature. We, the knower, are, thus, the same as the unknown. Et voilà. "... [I]n the final analysis, we have to act and think, live and die, from a source beyond all knowledge and control" (p. 17).

From this point, when we see this, the life of the Bodhisattva begins. We need not strain to improve ourselves, for the effort to do so is just ego. Seeds lead to plants, which lead to trees, but by a process of growth and development, not of effort, or straining to improve. The tree is not an improved seed. (p. 19). Once we see clearly that it is our nature to grow in the same way, change occurs naturally.

Ok. Got that?

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Mood in Zen art

Reading books on Zen Buddhism, and taking a class about moving a Zen practice into moment-to-moment awareness, I came across a description of four moods in Zen art (Watts, Alan, 1957. The Way of Zen. Vintage Books, New York., pp. 181-187). I immediately recognized the descriptions in poetry I had read even many years ago, that remained with me because the mood, it turns out, was so powerful. In fact, this chapter on Zen in the arts comes at the end of The Way of Zen, and I thought the book's powerfully expressed insights more or less over, and then, whoosh. Recognition. It occurs to me that these seconds, even parts of seconds, of insight are all and everything there is. I'm reading this book again.

One of the moods is called aware, but not the English word, aware. It's a Japanese word that Watts describes as "extremely untranslatable." He characterizes the mood as "that moment of crisis between seeing the transience of the world with sorrow and regret, and seeing it as the very form of the Great Void." All there is. Transcending the duality of knowing and not-knowing.

His example, attributed to Basho, translated by Blyth (see text and footnote on p. 184):

The stream hides itself
 In the grasses
  Of departing autumn.

Which inspired me, having just completed another couple of hours of work in the fall garden, to express aware through Ikebana and haiku:

First frost scares no flower
First frost scares no flower
  Leaves don't decide to fall
      Bulbs up already.

It's not just that there will be a spring, but that it inheres in fall. And it does not care. And yet!

And the class is wonderful -- Austin Zen Center, taught by Joe Hall. He inspires us all!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Mother and me

It turns out that no matter what I believe about life, it is what it is. When my mother died I wanted nothing more than for her to be released from suffering. I have to hope that she has been even though I may not be able to know for sure.

Mother and me, Thanksgiving, 2009
What I do know is that I am still alive. And life is a serious business. It matters. Nancy, the hospice nurse, said "2 hours, 2 days or 2 months" almost exactly 2 months ago. For the rest of us, we don't know how many days or weeks or months or years we have. But why waste a single minute being anything other than what you most fervently desire to be? What you are at your center. Love. All. Peace. One.

You don't have to be alone to be safe, Mother. I hope you know that now. You are never alone anyway. You are part of all that is. You always were. You just didn't see it.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The view from the bowsprit

"Roaring Forties," Gordon Frickers, & at Messing About in Sailboats

The sea was dark, the waves were high, but the lurching up and down was all I thought about. I held tightly to the pulpit surrounding the bowsprit where I stood lookout, each time the boat headed up a crest and the sea crashed against the bow, throwing tons of water across the deck. I never let go. It was the one thing that mattered to survive. "Don't let go."

It was simple and easy to take wave after wave, one wave at a time. Up, through the crest, and then back down. Then the unthinkable happened. The boat did not emerge from a crest. Instead it seemed to plunge into the heart of the wave, deeper and deeper into the sea. Was it really heading down into the sea, instead of through the crest to the back side of the wave? In an instant it was clear -- "don't let go" now guaranteed my death, rather than my survival.

So I woke up.

I love having a dream that stirs you deeply, that seems to hold a truth like a golden key to a treasure chest. I dreamed that dream a long time ago, and I've thought about it many times, not because I wanted to ponder or recall the truth it held, but because I did not understand something about it. I got that it described a moment of discernment, when suddenly everything you've needed to do to live is turned upside down. All the rules seemed to change in an instant, and what was right was suddenly wrong, and what was wrong was suddenly right. But that never seemed to be everything, so I kept thinking about it. Yesterday, the missing piece came to me during a visit with my mother who continues, even to the precipice of death, to teach me about life.

For the logical mind, it's simple. We hold on and let go all the time, for different reasons. There's no one rule or way to be that "always" or "never" works in life. Constructing a rigid response, literally clinging to a rigid rule to be safe, guarantees death, because the circumstances will change. You can count on it. We're quite happy with that understanding of a dream, though we may (as I have) sense that there's something more going on.

On a different level, however, the dream suggests something quite different. That's what I glimpsed yesterday, as I watched my mom, now weakened so terribly, still intermittently struggling to act, and then letting go, over and over. I saw that in that last second of the dream, there was another way to see and another way to respond to the flip of the rules, because I saw an essential identity between life and death.

Have you ever experienced death in a dream, and realized that you were aware in death (like being aware that you are dreaming in a dream)? You're dead, or you've just died, but you're actually conscious of it? This dream speaks to that kind of awareness, an awareness that exists behind or beyond thinking, behind or beyond the idea of "me" and "my life." It suggests that the certainty that clinging would result in death, and letting go would save life, are right for one level of existence, though they are exactly wrong for another. At that other level of existence clinging to life is a kind of death, and letting go into death is letting go into the life of the formless, but life nonetheless.

The logical mind will rebel and dismiss this, but you can quiet it for a moment, assuring yourself that, yes, it's true that we have no way to think about this formless state using the word, life, because we define life as, well, not dead. But if you can just put definitions aside for a moment and try to see without them, you may see in the dream a crossing of elements, a melding of states. Perhaps life and death are somehow the same, not polar opposites, but essentially the same thing, in different forms. Clinging in the one prevents letting go into the other. Having trouble with that logical mind? Without an active meditation practice, it's nearly impossible to see any other way, so I recommend it to you. But back to the story.

Mother, my teacher, showed me peace, love, joy and life when she would let go, into death. And she showed pain, resentment, anxiety and anger when she would struggle to hold on, to life. Logical? No. Beautiful truth? Yes.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Time -- the perfect gift

Traveling always awakens my senses and gets me thinking, but it also gives me time to slow down, meditate, practice yoga, read, and most importantly, reflect on the things I see, hear, read, feel and think. It's all one big messy happy process, and I feel lucky that I can catch a truth here and there and contemplate it more deeply, and maybe come out of the process a little clearer about what to do with my most treasured possession, my time.

Montreal is filled with wonderful things to experience, and because I will only be here for 10 days, I chose a little part of it to get to know better, Le Plateau. The place I rented, however, simply can't be an accident, though were I to recount how I came to find it, it would certainly seem that the process lacked intent to produce any result other than to find a place to stay. But it is too much more than that, too precisely what I need and can appreciate now, to be an accident. Photo credit: Archive for the Plateau Mont Royal category.

Verona's apartment is filled with her and others' paintings, sculpture, poetry, plants, and old repurposed furniture. Everything is placed with obvious care and attention to detail, balance and beauty. Her bookshelves are filled with books on mediation, the life of Buddha, eastern and western religions, philosophy, art and artists, travel and travelers, and knowing yourself, finding truth and experiencing love. The apartment is a gift I feel honored to be offered and to accept for the time I am here. Photo: A table and wall in Verona's apartment.

Just like life.

Everything in my environment, my body and my everyday experiences seems to be reflecting back to me just who I am at this moment and what I need to grow. So my French immersion experience has evolved into a meditation, yoga, consciousness raising, Reiki retreat. And I've got the time and the inclination to go along with it all. It reminds me of Alice's Wonderland, only it's here and now and real.

Perhaps four walls and a pallet might have been just as perfect a gift, but I don't think I would have recognized it as such at this time. That's what makes this place so special. I recognize it for the gift it is, and am taking full advantage of it. It's like the bridge that Stroke of Insight was for me last year -- just what I needed to go from where I was to where I needed to be. Photo: Bridge in the Japanese Garden, Jardin Botanique, Montreal.

In one short week I have recognized truths that seemed to elude me for more than 50 years. Topping the list is that it doesn't work to try to argue with feelings. Logic is simply ineffective. On the other hand, meeting your own feelings with acceptance, love and compassion enables you to do the same with others who are in need too. 'If you can't have compassion for the only person whose feelings you can actually experience, you won't be able to extend compassion to anyone else.' --Cheri Huber

Just as importantly, moment to moment awareness is a powerful tool to help us identify what the thoughts and feelings are that keep us stuck in patterns of self-protection. You can't meet a feeling with acceptance and love if you don't know what it is.

And every encounter with people, choices, and even things, presents us with an opportunity to listen to our hearts as well as our heads. Like a lot of people, I tend to lead with my head and talk myself out of most of my heart's inclinations. But I can see the results of that approach, and while fine by material standards, they fall pretty short on the spiritual side.

And last, I better understand the power of intention to bring energy, intuition, and opportunity together to make change.

So that question of what to do with my time? At this moment, seems pretty clear that there is nothing more important than this moment. Practicing moment to moment mindfulness is the foundation for everything else I will do in my life. I get it.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Learning from someone else's fight

I saw the most interesting transition in mother's behavior over about 1 1/2 hours on her birthday last week. I arrived at the end of one dosage cycle for pain meds, and stayed through about 45 minutes into the next cycle. So, I got to see her "with pain" and without it. Or so I assume. It seemed more like with will and determination, and without them, but I am assured by the nursing staff that pain is there, but Alzheimer's causes the sufferer to be unable to identify it as such. Rather, it causes generalized agitation, anxiety and fear. Whatever was the cause, her behavior was like day and night. When I arrived she was in a bad mood. She ignored the things I brought to share with her for her birthday, refused even a single bite of cake, and spent all her time and effort trying to get out of the geri chair. She made a sweet plea to me to get me to take her away, but when I told her I couldn't take her, she turned hostile.

She would struggle to get out of the chair, pushing and pulling on the tray that keeps her in, trying to slide out, etc. After a few minutes she would give up, exasperated, and collapse back against the chair back. Then in a minute, she was at it again. This went on nonstop. At first I talked to her about her situation, the reasons for it, and how sorry I was that she was unable to do the things she used to be able to do, but eventually, I stopped. Suggesting that she would have to accept that she couldn't walk or talk well enough to be out of the chair and effective in communicating her needs seemed pointless, because she clearly wanted none of that. Her behavior indicated that she did not know or believe either of those abilities was impaired. And yet, they are.

Then she got her pain meds.

Over the next 30 minutes the physical struggling and efforts to talk slowed down and then stopped. She became a relaxed, calm, serene, and seemingly happy person. She accepted my offer for some birthday cake and responded with a beautiful smile at hearing happy birthday wishes.

I can take away many things from this experience. Pain meds reduce the desire to escape from your situation, whatever it is. Alzheimer's makes it harder to remember that you can't do things. But in an odd twist on logic (which I can handle now that I realize there are ways of seeing for which logic is not well suited), I also take away that failure to accept what is true is painful.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

"I can't" -- The loss of control and who we are at heart

She started with an, "I have a problem" preface, after which she explained in a string of words that sounded like actual words but for the most part made no sense, except for these: "I can't do anything; I can't do anything right; I can't do anything at all." That was last Wednesday. It was also the first time since her move to assisted living, and now to skilled nursing care, that she admitted that there was something she couldn't do. Until Wednesday, the monumental struggle was always to explain to her why people were interfering in her life ("to help you" I always said), to which she always responded, " but I can do all that -- I do all that myself." You just can't argue with her logic, and the facts, well, her facts and mine just don't exist in the same universe.

And indeed, it was quite evident that she couldn't do anything. Her hands were shaking so badly that I had to feed her. By evening (after I had gone home) she had fallen 3 times and the next morning, she fell again. So, she had lost the ability to walk and to feed herself in, literally, a day. I'll make the long story short here: I got a referral to hospice and I am so glad I did. It's not clear whether she's got 2 hours, 2 weeks or 2 months to live, but it is clear that the disease has taken a serious turn for the worse. It is so good to have hospice nurses and assistants involved, who are focused on managing pain, anxiety and frustration, as the body passes through the phases it must when life comes to an end.

But that's not all she lost. Today when I visited, she was in the dining room in her "geri" chair, asleep. It took awhile for her to wake up, but when she did, she ate about half her lunch. But the whole time I was there, talking to her and feeding her, she was irritated, angry and hostile. She yelled at me for touching her arm ("Goddamn-it -- leave it alone"), and again when I asked her at one point if she wanted more of anything to eat ("NO! I don't want anything!" as she slammed both her hands on the table).

I always announce myself when I come to see her because, for awhile now, she has taken a few seconds to recognize me. She always does recognize me eventually, and she consistently acts towards me in a very loving way -- not at all like she acted today. So, though I had already said that it was me when I first sat down, and had talked about my brother and when we would both be by to see her next, I asked her if she knew who I was and as I expected, she answered angrily, "no."

Maybe it's just the disease. I've heard that it can exacerbate personality traits. And this was my mom toute crachée when I was a little girl, before she divorced my dad, whom she came to hate during their 9 years of marriage. Talk about a walk down memory lane, or perhaps I should call it, nightmare alley. This experience sheds a little more light on the questions I've been exploring regarding who we "really" are, and change. We can control our presentation to and interaction with others to some degree, but when control dissolves, who we are at center is revealed. Superficial change is not real change -- not good enough.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Fire in the Chiricahuas

South Fork Cave Creek
One of the places I love most in the Sky Islands of Southeast Arizona is on fire. Horseshoe Canyon in the Chiricahuas is burning -- around 1200 acres so far -- and threatens what most call the "jewel" of the Chiricahuas, South Fork Cave Creek Canyon.
I was just there a few weeks ago with my friend, Kirsti.
We birded South Fork and drove Forest Road 42 from Cave Creek to the Onion Saddle, on into Rustler Park where it was cool and quiet and very, very shady.
Kirsti at Onion Saddle
In August a few years ago, we visited the same spots and were drenched with rain and chilled by cold and mist. And now there are temperatures in the upper 90's, predicted to hit 100 by Friday, and the place is on fire.
Rustler Park spruce trees at edge of meadow
One more in a constant stream of reminders that it's all process.
I certainly need these reminders, because we don't typically see our lives as process.
We tend, instead, to freeze our experience into discreet events that we either like or don't like, or perhaps feel neutral towards. The photos I have posted here are the quintessential freezing of a process into an event. And, like our memories of the time we spend in a place, our events seem so real to us, so solid. That's how we speak of things: South Fork Cave Creek is (and we like to think, always will be) the jewel of the Chiricahuas, "the single most desirable hike in the Chiricahuas," writes Richard Taylor in the 2005 edition of A Birder's Guide to Southeast Arizona (p. 171). Until it is destroyed by fire, that is. Taylor also refers to other fires that have ravaged the Sky Islands in the past, as discreet events: the 1994 Rattlesnake Fire that burned 27,000 acres in this very area; the 1977 Carr Fire that blackened 9,000 acres at the tops of Miller and Carr Canyons.
But Dr. Bill McCormick quotes Leonard Taylor's, "Hiker's Guide to the Huachuca Mountains," in describing the Carr Canyon fire, acknowledging that it is a process:
In June of 1977, some careless people left a fire unattended; it quickly grew into a forest fire, and destroyed 9,000 acres of trees; most of Upper Carr and Miller Canyons. Heavy rains followed, causing severe erosion, and most of the top soil was washed down the mountain. Where once a shaded trail led through towering pines and flower-filled meadows, now a rocky path winds among charred stumps.

The mountain is recovering, however, and after the monsoons start the Carr Peak Trail is one of the most flowered trails in the range. Also, magnificent views abound, as they are no longer obstructed by trees.
Nevertheless, the description still reflects a distinctly human perspective, a dislike of what happened. The author describes "careless people," "severe erosion," and "charred stumps." The fire caused him and others pain and regret, and probably anger, at those who caused it.

On the other hand, I heard a fellow hiker in Miller Canyon comment just last month about a "lovely meadow" that she came to at the top of Miller Canyon. And from my cabin I could see a spot high up near the top of the canyon, that was filled with beautiful, bright, spring green, though relatively smallish, trees. Their color contrasted vividly with the darker greens of the surrounding mountainside habitat. And it occurred to me that perhaps her beautiful meadow and the spring-green young trees I saw both resulted from the Carr fire, now 33 years old.
Our firefighters are hard at work trying to stop the event they're calling the Horseshoe Fire. And those of us who love these mountains and their canyons, and wish to hold them as they are, however futile that wish may be, will worry all the way through to the rainy season about the fire's consequences, the homes it might burn, the many other things we value that it will destroy, the loss of life, the loss of beauty, the loss of habitat. But fire, or more generally what it embodies -- dramatic and drastic change, loss, even destruction, devastation, and death, followed by (surprise!) re-growth and renewal -- shows us a simple truth about our lives here. As does all the life that exists in Cave Creek and Miller Canyons, human life is a cyclical process encompassing everything that's part of the cycle, not just the parts that we like. Letting go of our wish that what we call the good will stay and what we term the bad will never come or quickly disappear, we're left with acceptance.
And after that, on we go to fight the fire because we're not dead yet and neither is South Fork Cave Creek. But with awareness and acceptance, we see the fire for what it is, and ourselves and our actions in a broader context.

Friday, April 09, 2010

The end of time

My friend Dana died this week. Lou Gehrig's disease (ALS). I wrote about her struggle with the decision whether to go on life support nearly two years ago, when, to my utter shock, as I thought I knew Dana well enough to know she would not want to live like that, she decided to have the tubes implanted. She had tubes for everything. I won't recall that Dana, I'm afraid, because I never went down to see her. We chatted on IM and Facebook. Because ALS paralyzes everything, she had some kind of visual pointer that allowed her to type. We watched the returns come in the night Obama was elected. We shared the awe and wonder of the scene in Chicago -- all remotely. Remote. That's what Dana became for me.

But that's not what she was, or what I'll remember. Last night as Dennis and I sat at one of our favorite bars in Austin, the Eastside Showroom, I ordered an Anejo tequila shot, and I raised it in memory of my friend Dana, the one who celebrated my 27th birthday with me on a beach in Mexico many years ago, passing a bottle of mescal around a big circle of friends until I was so out of it that when I stood up, my legs just collapsed under me and fell back into the sand! Not that it's a proud moment or anything, but rather, because Dana and I had a whole lot of fun together when we were young and a lot of our best times together were in Mexico. She spoke much better spanish than I did (until that year I spent in Central and South America -- I caught up with her then!), and could get us into, and out of, all kinds of situations I wouldn't have managed so well on my own.

Our friendship went on through her move to San Antonio after she graduated college, her first marriage which ended in divorce, her move to Los Angeles, Dennis' and my marriage and move to Los Gatos. One of my favorite memories is of Dennis' and my drive from Los Gatos to LA for thanksgiving with Dana when we both were in California. Jesus. It took us 14 hours to make what should have been about a 6 hour drive because the traffic on the highway was a complete parking lot for most of the way. I have never seen anything like it. We ended up at 2 in the morning crashing in some whore house hotel for a few hours before getting up and making our way to Dana's for a lovely dinner.

Then she moved to Houston, got married again, divorced, and married a third time, this time to Doug Plette, whom she knew was in fact the love of her life. He is the one who has been with her through her journey through ALS. She was diagnosed shortly after their wedding.

I can't even begin to fathom what those two and their families have been through these last four years. I got only brief glimpses of their lives as we visited a few times back and forth (they lived a bit north of Houston). But it has been the kind of challenge most of us hope we're up to, but privately believe we probably are not. Perhaps I'm projecting here. I believe I am not. But Dana surprised me to no end, with what she put up with and what she would not put up with. Maybe I will surprise myself.

About 6 weeks or so ago, I got a note from Dana. All it said was, "How are you?" I didn't respond. Truth was, I was in the middle of what was a very sad, very depressed period, and you just don't whine to someone with ALS who's enthusiastically living on life support. I had decided in January that this would be the year I came fully to terms with not only my mom's decline and eventual death, but my own, and that has meant going down a few levels into what's pretty aversive, accepting it, and eventually coming back up to greater heights than possible when you're simply turning away from the realities of life. And when she wrote, I just couldn't see how I could talk to Dana about death. I was wrong. I'm wrong a lot.

Today is Friday. In a few minutes I head out to the Assisted Living where my mom is staying, and I move her to the nursing home. It's been a very hard week. She had a bad fall last week, on one of our walks together, and it catalyzed a lot of things for me. It is time for her to move. She needs a lot more help than she's getting now. Death is on her shoulder. It was on Dana's shoulder. It is on my shoulder.

I can see out the front door the sunlight streaming across the front garden, lighting up the new spring growth with a brilliant green that must be seen to be believed. Life is good. Very good. Tears may stream down my face, but I have to say, I am so happy to be alive right now.

Friday, January 01, 2010

End of a year off; now to the hardest task

I dreamed I was traveling on a train with lots of friends. Everyone was happy and talking with each other and visiting around, from seat to seat. Scenery whizzed by, and gaiety reigned inside. We were one, big, happy group all together on a trip -- of some kind. Rather suddenly, however, the train reached its destination and in an instant, everyone was off the train except for me. I went back to my seat where I saw at least 6 bags of different shapes and sizes in a pile, all made of that army drab grayish green canvas, with buckles, straps, and outside pockets. The pile was a mess. I knew I had to consolidate the bags somehow, in order to carry them all, and I started trying to figure that out when my kitty wandered into view and I realized that I would never be able to get her to stay with me when we got off the train. Indeed, she had been wandering around the train the whole time we'd been on the journey, just like we all were doing. It was not a problem before, but now that I had to get off and keep all my stuff together, wherever we were, I knew I would not be able to manage her. She would be uncontrollable. She'd have to go inside one of the bags and I knew she would never stand for that. I realized that I could not get off the train with all my stuff.

When I woke up, this dream reminded me of the conversation between the Buddha and the first person to encounter him after his enlightenment, to whom it was clear that the Buddha was a remarkable being:

Who or what are you? -- Buddha answered, I am awake.
How did you wake up? -- Buddha simply dropped his bags.
What will you do now? -- Buddha picked up his bags and was on his way.

There's a lot there. Dropping bags sounds simple, but it's not easy. Nevertheless, I know what will happen if I don't. I visited my mother yesterday and learned something new from the endless repetition of her complaints: we take with us into whatever comes next what's in our hearts. We may "forget" many things, but we don't forget how we feel. And if we've carried fear, hurt, anger and resentment with us, that's what's left when everything else is gone. With all she has lost, with all the things that have dropped from her repertoire, you'd think, you'd hope, that anger and hurt would be among them. But they are not. I guess clinging occurs at some very deep level. Maybe it's simply a function of repetition. I don't want to get that good at it. I'm dropping the bags and getting off the train. Now.