Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Be Willing To Be Disturbed By The Truth

I have a couple of  Dharma thoughts rolling around in the old grey matter.  I'm not sure why we call it grey matter because I heard Rick Hanson describe our brains as being a lot like a couple of pounds of cottage cheese (but maybe that was just the consistency, not colour. Grey cottage cheese, blech!!).  And that's the useless fact for today kids!

The other day as I was walking with a friend she told me about a woman from my old Sangha that had recently had surgery for stomach cancer, in fact she had her entire stomach removed.  Now while we all might find this a bit shocking it touched me deeply.  In fact I couldn't quite shake the unsettled feeling this left me with.  As I wobbled around in the darkness for a day or so, I considered what it was about this I found so disturbing.

Having done the whole big C thing myself  almost two years ago I could appreciate the difficulty of the situation: the delivery of the diagnosis, the waiting for surgery, the hospitalization, the surgical escapade and recovery.  I knew all those crevices rather intimately.  And did I mention the fear.  Yes the frozen landscape of terror we travel through at various points in the journey.  Of course my heart went out to her.  But it wasn't just that.

What then?  As I went through the excavation project, digging to the bottom of the unsettled hole it looked like this: This woman, who I had reduced into  caricature of herself, seemed to have a charmed life from outside appearances.  She is quite beautiful has a devoted husband an incredible water front home, and a PHD in something.  Everything our culture values, perfection embodied, all the ducks in a row.  And yet here she was ..... in this seemingly samsaric state.  Kind of like a "hungry ghost", unable to eat, but needing sustenance to survive.  

And when I looked it in the eye, lying there at the bottom of the hole, was impermanence, all red eyed and knarly toothed.  Just staring me down, saying Carole, look at me.  There are no guarantees, no one gets one in this human life, can't buy the extended warranty on this one, offer not valid on this product.  The great "unknown", where we all live all of  the time, hadpopped up and given me a big wack on the upside of my pointy little head..  There it was reminding me that squirming is optional but that the nature of existence is that "we really never know".  

I need to be reminded.  I need to be reminded on a regular basis so that I get it at a blood and bones level.  So that I don't continuously push it away.  I need to be an intimate acquaintance of impermanence (ya, me and impermanence we're sleeping together).  It is not dark or frightening if understood in the fullness of what we  are.   We are really just energy passing through this human realm, but somehow when we get here to this little earthy abode we build ourselves a house of  brick solid thoughts for protection.  We don't like it when the wolf comes by huffing and puffing.  There is a Buddhist quote from Dogen in the Shobogenzo that goes something like : " be willing to be disturbed by the truth."    And I think that is it, shearly and utterly.  I was disturbed by the truth.  And as I always find when these things come to me.  I can't make them go away.  Just as they arrive, they leave quietly after I have entertained them.  And I am wiser for the truth.  And me and the big bad wolf, we're going out for coffee tomorrow.  Want to come?


  1. I have been trying to practice bowing when I see a dead animal on the road or anywhere. It's actually not always easy to remember - sometimes, the appearance of the body is a shock, and sometimes I'm with people and skip it because I don't want to explain why I'm bowing. (A silly little ego protection there.) But seriously, squashed squirrels often disturb me - even though I've probably seen hundreds of them over the years.

  2. Last week you mentioned in a comment feeling things in your blood and bones. (An idea reinforced here.) I am living with this idea. I marvel at your writing style. It is so textured and gritty and poetic. It is as if your words themselves are made of blood and bones. Learning from you - Tallis.

  3. It is always interesting what disturbs us ... and instructive in its own way ... showing us where our practice lies. And those squirrels just sacrificing themselves so that you might be disturbed, altruistic little guys (and gals), wouldn't you say!

    Thanks Tallis for the kind words, and the "understanding things in our blood and bones" is not my phraseology although I love it deeply. It is so perfectly descriptive isn't it.? I first heard it from my Zen teacher. I will have to google it. It probably belongs to that rascal Dogen!

  4. Zen, I was very moved by your words and by your wisdom. We all know all of this but we tend to push bad thoughts away or to deal with bad feelings later. I love the way you take something head-on and chew on it for awhile and in the end find some truth. I am learning from you too. :)

  5. How interesting your two blogs here on dying, because in the last week and a half the thought that has come to mind for me is how unprepared we are as a culture for death! And that I needed to look at this idea of "preparing for death" and voila your blogs... Hmmmm... Now the follow up thoughts that came for me were not so much about making sure I do the right things to put in my suitcase, but more in the category of how, in the western cultures at least, we don't even *look* at death as a part of living... We are literally unprepared for the inevitable trip... And so somewhere in my psyche "I" decided maybe it would be a good idea to "get prepared" - if that is even possible. I remembered that about 11 years ago I bought two tape series from Sounds True on this topic - and never listened to them... So I dug them out of the basement(inresting metaphor there - putting what I don't want to *see* in the basement :) One is by Joan Halifax, a Buddhist teacher who works with dying people that you may have heard of, called "Being With Dying." In the series there is a tape on "meditation for the dissolution of the body and transfer of consciusness at the time of death." Woa - weighty stuff there. Will have to admit that listening to the series did create some anxiety. And the other tape series is called "Tibetan Wisdom for Living and Dying" by Sogyal Rinpoche, which I haven't started listening to yet. But evidently this is my preparedness kit for the time being... Just thought I'd pass those along just in case you need a few extra items for your suitcase :)

    Love your crying Buddha picture, by the way... So moving. I love all your Buddha art and if I had money some of your pieces would be gracing my walls... So inspiring... Thanks for posting them here so we can enjoy them.

    As ever in gratitude...

  6. Hi Christine

    Maybe you could move a little closer than Colorado and you could bring those tapes over for a listen! I have had Soygal Rinpoche's book "The Tibetan Book of Living & Dying" out for a read, but it is nice to listen to talks sometimes. Love the basement metaphor! I know my RM Jiyu Kennet of Shasta Abbey said "how does a zen Buddhist prepare for death? The same way you prepare for life, with awareness."

    But it does feel we need a little more instruction than that. And thanks for the kind art comments. It's interesting. Even though this Buddha is crying (the leaf guy) somehow he doesn't feel sad to me. He feels compassionate. with bows, Carole

  7. Hi Carole ~

    Believe me I'd love to bring the tapes and listen with you! Our desire is to move to the Seattle area someday, so who knows, maybe I'll get a chance to ferry over :) Will have to warn you though, I'm a "Bookstore Buddhist." I love Buddhist wisdom and approach to life, but never made it my "life's path."

    "how does a zen Buddhist prepare for death? The same way you prepare for life, with awareness." How lovely. Simply awareness... Yes. Thank you. C