Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Dharma of Swine Flu

If you know me, you will know I'm not a big consumer of news.  So the first I'd heard about swine flu was when a couple of friends visited my art show on Saturday.  And then I saw some news of Sunday (more swine flu) and when I stopped by my mother's on Monday, BBC World News was chewing away on swine flu.  

And there it was the Dharma, oinking in my face.  You see I am booked to do "The Make It Show" in Vancouver this coming weekend.  Which means crowds.  Three days of crowds.  Three days of crowds of mobile young people.  Several cases of swine flu have been identified in the lower mainland.  So I needed to think about this.  Actually it wasn't a case of need.  I woke up this morning and the first thought was, "I don't think I should do the Make It Show."  You see I had cancer surgery just over a year ago and since then my immune system (and shall we say body/mind) has been in a state of shock.  I spent a lot of last year bouncing back and forth between one flu and another.  I became somewhat of a mini version of Howard Hughes, opening doors with my scarf, passing on dinner at my mother's care home.  With the help of some serious mega vitamin treatments and some herbs I am doing much better, but.....  

I had to give some serious thought to going to this event.  Would it be fun?  Would I worry?   The weekend itself would be a tiring 2 1/2 days of show, something I knew but was prepared to do.  Was it worth it?  In monetary terms?  In health terms?  Since being sick I have learned to look at things a little differently.  Some things just seem to matter less.  In the end I decided that it was not worth putting myself in harms way for "some money".  I have pre paid $250ish to be part of the show.  I had to be able to say to myself I am okay with loosing that money.  Though it ouches that thrifty part of me (who likes to watch $250 go for nothing?).  I felt I could let it go.  If I got sick and died for $250 how would I feel then???  Oh, you say I'd be dead and it wouldn't matter.  True enough.  Bad choice.  Do not pass go.  Straight to you next life as a small dog!  I had to say that in the past I might be pretty attached to that cash.  But life threatening diseases have a way of lending perspective, encouraging gratitude and equanimity.

I had to look at whether this was a fear based decision.  Carole, are you just running and hiding under the bed?  And my answer was no, that I was using common sense.  I did have the flu in March.  I am more vulnerable than some.  It is not fear based to admit the truth about yourself.  I feel pretty clear about that.  I am not sitting by the TV quivering in my boots.  I am going to the Theatre, out to dinner, to my mother's care home.  True all this swine hype is pretty revved up by the media for the sake of getting people to tune in to the news all day long.  True the media loves nothing better than a good tragedy.  We are in such early stages of it all.  It may well blow over into nothingness but at this stage so much is unknown.  It's not like I plan to lock myself in the house but to put myself in a potentially harmful environment when I don't have to seems unnecessary.  I don't need to go.  I don't need the money.

So I could feel all the discomfort of having to decide, of going back and forth and second guessing myself.  Really all is unknown.  There are no right or wrong answers.  I could feel a sense of embarrassment  about having to backtrack and tell a bunch of people I have changed my plans.  Maybe they'll think I'm a wimp.  But would pride be any reason to go ahead with this?  

I cringe about saying in these pages that I have had cancer.  I have hinted at my "health opportunity" as a friend calls it.  It is strange and if you've never been there, there is something mildly (or perhaps not so mildly) shameful about having to say you've had cancer.  Somehow it seems like some admission of failure, some inadequacy, something for the marked and pitiful few.  But there it is.  It just is.  Is it like coming out of the closet if you're gay???  Or telling people you're bi-polar or schizophrenic?  Maybe I understand the feelings that course through those souls a little better now.

So here I am.  I am fine.  I am good with my choice.  I am disappointed that the young woman who runs the "Make It" Show could not find anything exceptional about my situation to offer me more than routine cancellation policy (1/2 off her fall show).  And yet I am willing to let that one go.  Everyone does what seems good to them.  Ironically she is doing a silent auction for "The Cancer Foundation".

So there it is the Dharma of contemplating our choices a little more deeply, not being so attached to all the things that are out there: our plans, our money, our pride.  It is an opportunity to let go.  It is an opportunity to work with the three poisons of greed (wanting money & outcomes), hate (wanting the show organizer to offer some compensation), delusion (thinking I am healthier than I really am).

I am sitting with that sense of unrest that arises when we have to change our plans, the disappointment of looking at the things that are ready and waiting to go to the show.  And I can be good with my decision.  As Ajhan Chah says,  "let go a little, have a little peace, let go a lot, get a lot of peace, let go completely, have complete peace."


  1. It's a good choice you've made. Even if you don't catch the flu in Vancouver, worrying about it probably won't enhance your good time. And I've found that selling at open markets absolutely requires that you be on the top of your good time game. So don't feel bad. Think of something else to do this weekend. Make more art? And don't forget to breathe.

  2. thanks Christine for the encouraging words, you know how monkey mind works, always churning. So it's good to be reminded that this was the good thing to do! So easy to go down the rabbit hole of feeling bad. But what an opportunity to let go of so much that is the territory of little self! bows to you.

  3. I nod and bow to you for making such a wise decision in taking care of yourself. Stepping back, and living life with no agenda. Yes!

    I also hear you with the health issue, feeling like a failure. I have chronic health issues myself and with the emphasis on "preventative medicine" these days I too have experienced that feeling of failure in not being able to prevent these conditions. Personally I think the emphasis on preventative medicine gives us the *illusion* of being in control... People get sick, life happens. We can be mindful of what we do to contribute to our disease, but I don't think we have as much control as we think we do - as if we are somehow *entitled* to "good" health, and if we haven't got it than we must have done something "wrong." No wonder some of us hide!

    I'll leave you with this little quote:
    "What is the secret of your serenity, asked the student? Said the master: Wholehearted cooperation with the inevitable." Anthony De Mello. I take that to mean cooperation with how life is living us at any given time...

    Have a serene, self-nurturing weekend!
    C - Denver

  4. ah yes the illusion of "control"... And as you point out it is good to do our part but so important to accept that ultimately we are not in control, we can't will things into the shape we find desirable. I don't mean this in any fatalistic sense but as an acknowledgement that there is a bigger picture operating out there than little me can see.

    And Anthony De Mello. What an amazing guy. A friend whose son was in to "Christian" spirituality sent me links to a ton of De Mello's talks on you tube and I was blown away. He was riveting and his talks sounded just like any Buddhist Dharma talk.

    Your comments are always so helpful and inspiring, Christine. Thanks!

  5. Just to add a little PS here :)
    What I experience is that accepting that we are not in control is more like an embracing of the totality of our experience, and as you said, seeing the bigger picture. A Zen teacher I like, Adyashanti, puts it this way "Truth (Life) never explains why its moving that way at the moment. And if you ask, it won't give any information. It would be like a leaf asking the wind, "Why are you moving that way right now?" The question doesn't make sense to the wind." Life is just living Itself in us and through us...

    And I might also add, I am *still* learning this lesson! Still learning to ride the wind, to embrace the totality of my life experience.

    Humbly - C

  6. The swine flu is a lot of drama. There has been talk of deadly pandemics for years, and it just hasn't happened. I try to step back from every news story like this and consider why it's being presented in such a way.

    But I respect your desire to focus on the important things in life. Being healthy means being able to continue to create and give back to the world.

    And I find it sad that culturally, there seems to still be such a strong sense that people who get sick somehow have failed personally.

    In the end, trusting what your gut says - that deep, intuitive voice - is what is most important.

  7. Yeah I agree that there is a lot of drama around these things. It seems to be something the modern world thrives on. I always grumble about the media ... but if they didn't have the audience.

    And ultimately for me there was a message about how and why I'd chosen to do this show, that was the deeper issue for me I think.

    And it's true that culturally there is some message that we have failed if we get sick. And yet again if I look inside I don't need to accept that message do I? It offers me an opportunity to peel another layer of the onion. What's that saying attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt, "no one can make you feel inferior without your permission.

    Thanks, Nathan for your comments. I liked your blog, that working with daily life perspective of Zen.

    A bow to you.