Monday, February 16, 2009

The Mad Witch of Zen

There are many things I know in my head that I don't know yet in my heart. What I need to understand hasn't made the long journey, as the quote credited to Chief Seattle goes ("The longest journey we'll ever take is from the head to the heart.") Today I woke up with a sore throat.  For most people this isn't a welcome thing but you get up, get on with your day.  Maybe grumble a bit.  Today I did get up and get on with my day but for me being sick is a serious bummer.  You think I'd be used to it by now.  You think I'd accept it.  But I can't quite do this.  I don't want it.  I don't like it and I push it away.  For me a sore throat is not just a sore throat.  For some time I have realized that I have built a story around illness.  No, that's not quite it. .... I have built a giant arm wrenching novel around it.  It's set somewhere dark and nasty, filled with lots of sinister and sad characters where I imagine (unlike Hemingway) that the sun never rises.

We all tell ourselves stories.  What else is the ego but an amassing of stories really, about how we are, why we are that way, and how things should really be.  We create ourselves with our stories.  We are walking illusions.  Some of the stories we tell ourselves are helpful.  Things like "I'm good at this" or "I always bounce back".  Mostly if we look carefully we  have some good stories.  On the good days they're easier to find in the mental library.  

But today I pulled out the well worn volume called "oh no, I'm sick again.  I'm always sick.  Every time I turn around I'm sick.  Will I ever be well?"  Sounds like a bad, cry in your beer, country and western sound track.  And  logically I know this is a most unhelpful story, and yet....  I have told it to myself off and on since I had chronic fatigue syndrome 2o years ago so it is a comfortable old story with a leather cover and a silk tassel book mark.  It is not an enjoyable story but easy reading, second nature.

So what does it take to redraft that story? There are a variety of skills that go into this I think, applied at various times, in various combinations, in a kind of trial and error, let's experiment kind of way.  Ah, let's get out the Bunson Burner, remember that cute little accessory from high school chemistry.  We know the object of this little experiment. It would be "Drop the story. " ... And the apparatus, well I guess that would be me and mind and my heart and my blood and bones. 

 And then there's the method.  (Remember the layout of that little science report?)  So first I am aware that I am telling a story.  Or am I?  Well,truthfully sometimes I am past the first chapter, well into the moping, before I even realize I am telling the story.  So I need to be vigilant and pay attention to the oncoming story .... so I can be prepared when it's sitting at the check-out desk waiting for me.  Then I need to "grasp the will" as my Zen teacher calls it, which I find pretty hard when I feel crummy.  The draw to feel sad and bad and wallow is pretty strong.  The inclination to wrong view "everyone else is healthy and out there having a wonderful time." is pretty enticing.  That's how it seems but in addition to being untrue it feeds the wallow mentality.  

And then there is patience, ah good ol' grounded, steady patience.  Long standing, karmic patterns need time.  The work needs to be done over and over.  Change doesn't  happen NOW, just because I want it to.  Ah, big lesson. Patience, patience and more patience.  And how about some compassion for the confused little self.  The self that blames itself for being sick, feels a failure for being sick.  And then how about letting go, that famous Zen ingredient, so rarified and special, invisible and ethereal. ...... so simple and direct, the knife to slice through it all. ....Just let go of the story.  If only for a moment.  And then another.  .... And then one day ....poof, inexplicably it's gone for good.

So while I take my vitamin C and do my qi gong  I will also put all the above ingredients in a little flask on the Bunson Burner and patiently await the alchemical reaction, all the while stirring like a mad witch.  I will ask for help and say a little prayer and try not to remember that my chemistry teacher told me that "three moons were going to rise in the sky if I passed chemistry."  I still fondly remember Mr Martin.  He sounded a lot like WC Fields.


  1. Wow, your words ring true. I was discussing with my husband the other day how we create our own histories as our memory is selective.

    I like your imagery of stories we have created and how we pull a volumne down as we go through each day.

    Your blog profile is very inspiring too. I'm inspired by these words especially: "..To try and look at my life without sliding over things or fooling myself...To be present for life, not rejecting or preferring one experience over another."

    I will be back for more inspiration!

    Also, thanks for coming by my blog and wanting to do a link exchange. I put your link up here:

    Hope the chemestry mix was succesful and that you are feeling better soon.

  2. Hello Juana

    Thanks for the link. I have added your blogspot to my "interesting places to visit." If you'd prefer just let me know. And for others reading this, you have to check out this site. Her art is truly gorgeous. And I am feeling some better today! Must have been the Medicine Buddha mantra I found on You Tube last night!