Speaking of Sayadaw U Tejaniya, he is coming to Spirit Rock in April to lead a retreat, so of course I applied the minute registration opened, and though it was a lottery, I was sure I was going to get in. I had to! I’m Sayadaw U Tejaniya’s biggest Bay Area fan! But, alas, I ended up #102 on the waiting list. Since the whole retreat will probably be a hundred people, it’s safe to say I’m not going to be there, though I sent the registrar a note asking if person number #102 ever actually gets into the retreat, and she said, “Yes!” and as of this writing, I’m #81, so you never know.
While SUT is here at Spirit Rock teaching, a handful of Western teachers will be at Insight Meditation Society in Massachusetts leading a retreat based on his style of teaching. Last year it was the reverse: he was in Massachusetts and Steve Armstrong and Carol Wilson were at Spirit Rock teaching in his style. (Plus I hear from my dharma buddies that SUT is being mentioned at a lot of retreats lately.) Therefore, I could actually just go to the retreat in Massachusetts (which is about a quarter of the cost of going to Spirit Rock—even including airfare, I’d probably come out ahead), or wait until next year when Steve and Carol will likely be back at Spirit Rock, or go on some other retreat at Spirit Rock or somewhere else. Like Hawaii! Or, contemplating those who sleep under the freeway, I could decide that intensive meditation practice is a luxury and go without, in solidarity, at least for one year.
I’d been going to Laguna Honda to volunteer as a chaplain on Saturday mornings, but in mid-January, I started going on a weekday, after work. Bob, the hospital chaplain and my boss there, said he thought I’d find more people in their rooms. It seemed about the same to me in that regard, and it’s more cheerful to be there when it’s broad daylight, and people seemed more agitated and upset in the evening, but Saturdays are probably not sustainable. I don’t want to end up quitting the whole thing, and maybe it’s more of a service if I’m there at a time of day when people are more fretful.
C., who was beaten nearly to death for $60, was celebrating his 66th birthday that week, so I took him a card and a pretty piece of polished amethyst. He was happy because the hospital had given him two hats and a jacket. The latter is orange and looks very nice against his dark skin. He had carefully written out some questions to ask his doctors about the proposed brain surgery. He said he can’t always understand things now—for the first time, I noticed a substantial concavity on one side of his skull, nicely healed over—so he said he would take someone along who could help listen to the answers and write them down.
E., who has necrotizing fasciitis, had discovered that various hard drugs could be shot into the port through which his antibiotics were being administered, and thought that was why he was suddenly being discharged to an SRO in the Tenderloin, or possibly it was his habit of yelling angrily at the nurses. He obviously felt bad about the latter. I could completely relate. I never want to lose my temper with someone who doesn’t deserve it (or even with someone who seemingly does), but sometimes I do, and I always feel awful afterward. E.’s wound needs cleaning three times a day, but they’re only going to send a nurse once a day. He fears he is going to end up dead; it sounds like he knows that drug use and caring for his wound are not going to be compatible. I felt bad for him. I had only one substantial chat with him, but liked him a lot right away.
Before I left, I looked him right in the eye and told him I had noticed three great things about him. The look on his face while I said what they were was very touching. I said, “First, you’re extremely honest. That is an asset. And you have a wonderful sense of humor. That is an asset. And I can clearly see your intention to be kind and patient. Maybe you can’t do it at every moment, but I see your intention.” His friend, an excitable fellow resident, chimed in, “E.’s a good guy.” I said, “I can clearly see that.”
I can relate to getting frustrated and speaking in a harsh manner. I can relate to really, really not wanting to take an action that is self-destructive and discovering that the only thing I want more is to do that very thing. I’m afraid E. may be right that he is now on a downhill slope that is very steep and very slick. I told him I’d be thinking about him, which I will be. Beyond that, there’s not a thing I can do.