I know I'm stealing a cliche, but I can't help myself - Spiritual growth is not for sissies. It is hard. It means you give up mental stuff - and think how we sometimes balk at just giving up regular stuff, like our favorite flannel shirt, even though it is frayed, even torn. Spiritual growth comes from dancing with your demons, a metaphor I am drawn to, coming from a childhood informed by myth and fairy tales. Another way to put it is, you have to stop clinging to your illusions and delusions if you are to live comfortably in reality. That's the way the tradition I practice in sees it.
I think most people begin a meditation practice with the idea that it can bring peace of mind. (Here's an interesting side fact: one of the most effective psychotherapies, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, was created by Marsha Linehan, a very long-time meditator, and is based on techniques Zen teachers use.) Well, in the beginning meditation can feel very good; on one tape, Pema Chodron says there is a saying that spiritual practice begins in bliss and ends in bliss, but the road inbetween is hell. Teachers don't emphasize that, but try to inspire us to stay on the path by telling us how good life will be. Eventually. Keep sitting.
Yesterday I was on that craggy, dry, horrible part of the road. Depressed. I know better, but I tried to figure it out, and couldn't. Eventually - in the evening - I talked to Tom about how old I feel, how discouraging this foot thing is, and cried. This morning, the sun keeps coming out, making Ohio a worthwhile place to live, and I am singing little songs like - I'm not kidding - Three Little Birds. ("Don't worry 'bout a thing, 'cause every little thing gonna be alright.")
I can't seem to keep up with my health, and my fears about it. I can't seem to give up worrying about the next damn thing, knowing worry does no good. I push worry away, and it just goes underground. For instance, the transplant center called to make an appointment with the transplant surgeon in July, a routine re-evaluation. But what if I flunk? I just want a kidney, okay? Every time the phone rings it could be a kidney. . . next week I get full labs again, and I will hone in on that magic number, the GFR, the amount of your kidney function. Please don't fall. Please don't make me start thinking again about whether I will undertake dialysis again or just die. Always something to worry about.
I don't exactly worry about the damn feet, but they are absolutely handicapping. And as it is a temporary handicap, I am not set up with the kind of services you need, a housekeeper, transportation, an electric scooter. I rely on Tom too much. He is very supportive. Even so, it is a daily struggle. Cheery people want you to call it "a challenge," as if it were a Sudoku. I suppose on one level of abstraction, it is. One small life in the river of time, one blade of grass. Still, I am a sentient being and I feel pain as well as anxiety. Yesterday I absolutely couldn't get the new ankle support system comfortable. Then there was, and is, the pain in the hip from these major adjustments in footwear. Take tramadol or just Tylenol? I really should research tramadol . . .
I have been working with bone edema and ankle pain since January. Now I am out of the boot at last, but still wearing an air cast on the right foot, and a sort of little athletic supporter on the left ankle. They throw off the fit of all my shoes, and make my feet itch. Yesterday I got online and tried to find pretty all-cotton socks that would fit my big feet, and this was just one more source of pain - I could not find them in pretty colors. Big feet, you wear black or white. I know, there is an answer, dye them, paint them, sew beads on the cuffs. Sigh.
I need new orthotics the doctor said, but the physical therapist who specializes in that is on vacation, so I have to hobble around in the old ones for a couple more weeks. But that's okay, in a sense, because I'm not supposed to hobble, I am still supposed to stay off my feet. And not drive. Rest the ankles. I have thought of making a list of all the things you don't have to do when you're not supposed to stand or walk around, but the idea of trying to cheer myself up really did get me down.
So . . . yesterday all this was too much for me to really be with. The depression came up, a brown filter between me and all these frightening and frustrating realities. Today, much better. And a little closer to reality, more willing to follow doctor's orders, eat a good breakfast, write to a friend. Interested in life again.
Being depressed was a form of dancing with that particular foggy-brown demon, one I knew very well earlier in my life, one who used to come in and stay for months on end. Coming out of depression so quickly, I lay that down to continuing practice, meditating badly, reading dharma talks even as I grumbled. Maybe the most important thing was being being willing to let go of the resentment and depression, to be open to morning, to let my mood and attitude change and change again.
[the image: my current reading]