Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Back when I practiced as though my hair were on fire it was because I was desperate. First, I was afraid to die. I wanted to heal, not die from breast cancer. During that time I learned that the body is always fighting new invaders, that there are always cancer cells coming in. So I formed a visual meditation that had to do with T-cells, big spiky things, like those medieval weapons. I believed what I'd been taught, that my individual will could do anything, and if I failed to meet a goal, I was "a failure," and needed to try harder. Obviously, I thought I was a noun. Like an object.
It's unpleasant to remember being so frightened and alone, grasping with all my might at control over the future, which I did not know is subject to many, many influences beyond me. I wrestled with it like Jacob with the Angel, thinking, reading, writing, meditating up in my second-floor study in the house on Aldrich Road, which I called "my ivory tower." I was sort of joking, but it was true; up there I was secluded from my daily life, studying and writing poetry.
But I'm taking the long way around to my point - as I learned about Buddhism, I began to think the answer to all this pain was enlightenment. I conceived this as a sea change into an unwavering state that was like being in a room filled with morning light. I thought enlightened people had calm, loving, clear, untroubled minds, an unruffled certainty that everything was alright. I thought enlightened people were perfect, and I had always wanted that, actually. Now the mess of me - a body that had developed cancer in secrecy - was a sort of stinky garbage dump.
I was a long way from understanding the way life is, the interconnection, the change, the calm of just doing what you are doing in reality and not doing a lot of other stuff in your mind. I had seldom expeienced a bare, clear moment; my moments were incredibly messy, my mind busy with obligations and desires and standards and hurry. The core that run up my spine was red hot with fear and desire. Or take another metaphor: I felt like a cartoon character running madly, trailing flags of Things-to-do. Or another metaphor: as I stood at the kitchen sink washing lettuce, these things whirled round me. I was always a couple of steps into the next moments, the day, the week.
So I was perhaps your basic neurotic. I'd gotten along with myself and my ordinary unhappiness until that diagnosis. Teachers call the state I was in "a promising situation." God knows I was motivated to practice.
Well, this is exhausting me to even write this. It was 1997, a long way back, and 1997 doesn't exist now, nor does that version of me. These memories are merely mental emissions, pathways through my neurons, and have no real existence. Neither do any of the numerous Big Problems I anxiously worked back then. I have new situations, but now I know that it's me that labels them My Problems. Me that prefers not to have problems.
Intrusion of reality - Tashi broke skin on my wrist a moment ago trying to convince me that it was 8:00 a.m. and time for my Neoral and, more importantly, her breakfast. So I have to go wash with soap and hot water, rub with alcohol, put on antibiotic cream and a bandage. There, that's the reality of being immune-suppressed.
I don't know. I may have more to say on this.