Barry Magid's website. He is a psychiatrist and Zen Teacher in Joko Beck's lineage whose short talks speak to me. One called "Don't Meditate" caught me, since I have avoided formally sitting for three or four days now, though I got in some good sky-gazing cloud-watching Friday afternoon as I waited in the van for Tom to do some post-doctor shopping.
The piece talks about how we sit on the edge of the things we don't want to think about. "Well, bingo," I said out loud. Right away I knew what is upsetting me now. Two of the people in my small circle of good friends have been taken away from me. One is slowly recovering from a massive heart attack over three weeks ago, still can't talk, has a trach in. It will be at least another three weeks before she can come home. And we don't know who we'll have then, whether she was so oxygen-deprived that it may have changed her. The other friend is out of town indefinitely, as a close relative is slowly dying.
And of course, I am experiencing both these as personal losses right now. Getting together with each of these folks for an hour or two is a meaningful part of my usual week, a sort of going-to-church for friendship. So in psychological jargon, these friends help me destress.
The second thing is more deeply unsettling: these events vigorously remind me of my own fragility. God only knows what my next big health event will be. Had an unsettling little one on Friday; had to go to the doctor with sudden fierce symptoms of another UTI. It had been four months since the last one, and I had been exulting in feeling healthy and capable, had hoped this meant I wouldn't have to undergo another major surgery to take the native kidneys out. Little by little I've been building my body up so my back doesn't hurt so much, coping well with a torn rotator cuff, even driving. And suddenly, working on a fiction, loving to feel that creativity come back. Then, pow, you know, the kind of pow! that has jagged edges around it in a comic book.
Along with this - and perhaps related - I figured out that my blood pressure was high because last week I left one of the BP pills out of my pills when I did them for the week. And I was doing my positive best to do them right. It means distributing 20 medications into the four boxes for each day of the week, a total of 28 boxes. I've had to realize that I just can't do that alone. I don't have the brain power. Did I ever? I don't know, because when I was young and healthy I didn't have to do anything that precise, that important. So I had to tell Tom, that's it, you have to be with me when I do the pills, and concentrating on it, too. He has a more exact mind for data.
So that's a worry, too. Is this mental incapacity another limitation of aging? Were these two strange episodes of incontinence related to small strokes? I will turn 69 in September, and that has me thinking, I'm almost seventy. Seventy! People younger than me die every day.
Loss, sickness, aging, death - boy, what's not covered? It's The Five Remembrances in action (you can see them on the right side of the blog if you scroll on down.) Do you want to sit still and be with all that kind of reality? I guess I don't. And that's been a bad move.
But overall, what I get from Magid's talk is that I can also sit with compassion for my poor, vulnerable self's avoidance of its vulnerability and life's basic uncertainty. Or with the humor of the famous calligraphy above by Sengai, which says "If by practicing zazen one becomes a Buddha . . . " The logical conclusion is meant to be, then a frog must be a Buddha.