Thursday, December 20, 2012

More or Less Dead as a Doornail

Yesterday I decided that, though I’m now feeling some bond of understanding with those who are unhappy with the look of their shirts, I will not be one of those Financial District a**holes. I will not. And the only way I can avoid that is somehow to generate friendly feelings on an ongoing basis, including toward those who strike me as not deserving it, though I do know better. I know there is no one who does not merit kind treatment.

Several days ago, I stopped by Joe’s corner store to pick up some packages that had been left there by UPS. I was in my work clothes, and I temporarily blocked the doorway with my bike. Another patron arrived and said coldly, “Excuse me,” and I knew for a fact she meant, “Get out of my #*%@!! way, yuppie,” because that’s precisely how I think about people in my neighborhood who are dressed as I now am, or how I used to think of them.

I also decided I can’t take another anxiety- and misery-drenched day like Tuesday was, and my friendships can’t take an unlimited amount of that, either. I’ve read how cancer patients aren’t supposed to be angry and unhappy. We are supposed to smile brightly and find meaning in our experience. For the record, I feel perfectly entitled to be angry and unhappy, and I don’t feel obligated to be cheery or to find meaning in my experience, but I would prefer to for my own sake. I will easily find meaning in this. I absolutely have a robust conceptual framework in which to hold this, and here it is, with thanks to the dharma: this is a matter of prior causes and conditions that cannot now be altered, and that’s all there is to it.

I can change my current actions and thus possibly affect future conditions, but I can’t change whatever past factors caused the current conditions and would do best to meet said conditions graciously.

So that’s the concept, and the rest is the practice. What is the practice? To be awake in as many moments as possible and to act ethically, kindly and generously as often as possible. I can take refuge in the "Three Jewels" of the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha. What does this mean? It doesn’t mean to venerate the Buddha himself, though one may rightly be deeply thankful for the lessons he taught and find in him an inspiring example. However, as Howie lately pointed out, he’s kind of dead at this point, so taking refuge in the Buddha more properly means taking refuge in the qualities of awakeness and awareness he taught.

Likewise, the dharma is the teachings of the Buddha, and they are indeed of inestimable value, but the dharma is also the truth of how things are, so taking refuge in the dharma is taking refuge in what is so. As teachers sometimes say, the Buddha knows the dharma. When I am conscious of the feeling of my foot on the floor, I am the Buddha knowing the dharma.

The sangha is the community of meditators. We can take refuge in their friendship, in seeing more clearly in them than we can see in ourselves the good things that happen when we try to pay attention. We can also take refuge in simply knowing that someone on the other side of the globe is always sitting in meditation at the same time we are.

How does it help to know something consciously? Why is that so great? For one thing, it naturally interrupts the worrisome story. And being conscious in a given moment allows for the possibility of more constructive choices. So those, at the very least.

For some reason or other, during the day my mood became buoyant, for what seemed no particular reason. It felt like a return to a fairly customary state. I ran into a riotous and friendly new colleague in the break room and had an entertaining conversation with her, and thought, “Ah, this isn’t so bad.” I forgot for an hour or two at a time that I’m dying of cancer. I started to take some online classes in tools that I’ll be using and got to make some nice new documents, with tables of contents.

I called David and Lisa yesterday evening and told them about my biopsy (which will be this afternoon), and I told them the good news that while dying of cancer builds character, having a friend die of cancer really builds character.

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