Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Biopsy Dukkha

Hey, this is post number 500!

Dr. M. says lying on my stomach won't do any harm, but it might be uncomfortable. She suggested scheduling the biopsy for a couple of weeks out, so it will be December 5.

Toward the end of September, I went to Eugene Cash’s Sunday night sitting group, as was my weekly habit, and in his talk, he mentioned something that caused me to remember that it had been ten years to the day since I'd begun to meditate daily (not since I began to meditate, period, which was 21 years ago). I missed just one day in those ten years, by accident.

It was an Easter. Tom and I went to Sacramento on the train, so my schedule was not per usual, and I kept thinking, “When I get home, I need to meditate.” When I woke up the next morning not having done so, there was a slightly queasy feeling: You may be able to do this or that today, but you can do nothing whatsoever yesterday.

I went up to Eugene at the end of the evening to tell him about my anniversary. That Sunday night group is vast, and many people must want his attention, so this was the very first time I had ever approached him there, though on a handful of retreats, he has been one of the teachers I interviewed with. He’s agreeably irreverent, very well versed in his subject, and very funny. He often makes me laugh.

I told him about my ten years of sitting (almost) every day and he responded warmly. Looking directly at him, I realized I’d never fully appreciated what lovely caramel-colored eyes he has.

And that was his last Sunday night with us, because the following Saturday, on the Buddhist Bike Pilgrimage, which he had told us he was very excited to go on, he crashed and suffered a traumatic brain injury, and we have not seen him since.

I found out about his accident when I got an email directing me to his Caring Bridge website, a place where people undergoing medical treatment can post updates or have friends do so, so they don’t have to send 500 emails or make 500 phone calls. “Uh oh,” I thought, “Why does Eugene need a Caring Bridge website?”

One of his visitors posted this, which I saved and have thought of often:

“I have also benefited from the dukkha of bike crash recovery and know the long road.”

“Dukkha” means “suffering” or “stress.” It’s considered in Buddhism to be one of the three characteristics of life, but it is certainly not considered to be all of life, despite how frequently one encounters that glib misstatement.

I liked very much the idea of benefiting from dukkha, because we normally think of benefiting from what is agreeable, and we do benefit when we enjoy delightful activities, feelings, sights, sounds and tastes. We also tend to cling to those things, and to assume that if what’s pleasant is good, what’s unpleasant must be bad, so we naturally push away anxiety, pain, anger and sorrow.

I liked this person’s reminder that we also benefit from what is difficult, if we turn toward it and experience it directly. We might also use what’s hard as a starting point for wise reflection, which is not precisely the same as endless obsessing, or telling ourselves once again the story that always ends the very same way: we aren’t good enough, and things definitely won’t work out.
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