Tuesday, August 25, 2009

In love with made things

[image: In Love with Made Things, Jeanne Desy]
This quote, attributed to the Buddha, came to me yesterday via the Tricycle Daily Dharma:
You should train yourself: Even though I may be sick in body, my mind will be free of sickness. That's how you should train yourself.... And how is one sick in body but not sick in mind? There is the case where an instructed noble disciple ... does not assume the body to be the self, or the self as possessing the body, or the body as in the self, or the self as in the body. He is not obsessed with the idea that "I am the body" or "The body is mine." As he is not obsessed with these ideas, his body changes and alters, but he does not fall into sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, or despair over its change and alteration. (Similarly with feeling, perception, mental processes, and consciousness.) This is how one is sick in body but not sick in mind.
Well, I wonder about the implicit dualism, body separate from mind, self separate from parts. In extreme forms we call this disassociation. I myself desire to be a whole person, and I thought this was the goal of Zen practice. I sit in meditation and observe my thoughts, my aches and impulses, my fears. Me in my body. It is true that I also build the strength of the Witness who can say to my body/mind, "It's just a brief pain" when someone comes into the hospital room to stick my finger with a glucose monitor yet again. Part of me is saying, "I hate that, my fingers are very sensitive, it hurts," but the Witness overrules the impulse to jerk my hand away and refuse.

Glucose is one of the many parts we are made of. When mine dropped perilously low in the hospital last Friday, and I was on the verge of passing out, it all went - mind, body, ability to speak coherently, ability to do anything. At best, the body conspires to keep glucose flowing at a rate that does not threaten your whole being that way. (If I had been alone, driving a car . . .?) You are your blood sugar. All of you.

You also are your red blood cells, while I'm at it. Last winter I learned that, when my anemia wouldn't respond to the shots. The red blood cells carry oxygen which is pumped by the heart through an array of blood vessels. Every mechanism in your body and mind has to have this oxygen. I noticed the lack in my fatigue, in my pervasive depression, my shortness of breath.

You are your heart, which will valiantly work faster and harder to bring you oxygen when the supply is running short; that's why you get short of breath running. When you have a heart event like I did, an arrythmia, the heart taking off on its own, losing rhythm, getting faster and faster, you realize you are your heart, and nothing without it. If it doesn't work, and you don't get immediate medical care, you're done.

I used to think you are your breath. After all, in the end we exhale and don't inhale. But that depends on all the rest, on so many other parts not failing. And breath is one thing medicine can provide, via respirators, when a person is "brain dead," that is, the part that governs breathing has died. But of course you are what you breathe in, and the whole world gets what you breathe out.

Who is that one? Who are you? This was the first koan my root teacher gave me. I have come to understand that this one is composed of parts. Each part is attached to and works with the other parts. It doesn't take much to kill you.

When I had the big arrythmia, my heart pounding around in my chest, my neck throbbing with high blood pressure, unable to breathe, I knew I could die right there, just like that. It went on ten minutes, fifteen, while I recorded it on the little ECG I'd been wearing and transmitted it, and it kept getting worse. I had no time at all for regrets or thank you's or goodbyes, only to gasp, I don't feel well, I don't know what to do. I was entirely caught up in my heart's wierd panic. As quick as that, the whole thing that is you can blink out.

Two days later I had another "event" as doctors like to say. My blood sugar dipped very low (46). I happened to be on a guerney in the hall of the hospital, my doctor talking to me. I don't feel well, I kept saying. Sorry, I can't understand. A black blink kept occurring as my entire body went into a sort of physical panic. I had no reason to suspect that I am hypoglycemic, so no way to know how to act. You just want to fall back and go to sleep. If I had been home alone when that happened, I think I would have just laid down. I don't know what happens then.

So there was this reading, attributed to the Buddha (though we think nothing he said was written down for 200 years). I do not feel detached from this unpredictable body. Not at all. My fear of sudden death has me feeling tentative. Maybe a Teacher would call this "a promising situation." Maybe they could yank me into facing it, revising my will, writing those letters you think about to my loved ones, now that I am mended. But actually, I just want to go do the laundry that sat in the washer while I was gone, draw something, or shop on the internet for a laptop, so I don't get stuck in the hospital yet again wide awake at 3:00 a.m. alone with the fragility and unpredictability of this body, which it seems to me is what I am.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting post. I spent a couple of years after some surgery feeling "unwell" in the body and my Zen teacher kept reminding me that "we are not our bodies". I spent a lot of time resisting my illness and feelings of unwellness. It is a very deep and difficult teaching to see ourselves (in a gut or blood and bones kind of way) as more than our body. I don't think I have really got it yet at a deep level. The head understands but...... the heart is not quite there yet.

    And yet I know "getting this teaching" does not stand against working to be well. A lot of teaching has coming to me courtesy of the body. And in the end there it is, the Buddha's teaching, sickness old age and death. These are realities of the human body.

    I have learned that I sometimes can feel grateful to be well enough to take out the garbage or clean the toilet or that spontaneous feelings of joy or gratitude arise when my previous incarnation might have just grumbled.

    Thanks for the reminder!