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?