Friday, December 17, 2010

Objects In The Rearview Mirror Are Closer Than They Appear

There has definitely been a samsaric quality to the last several weeks. And that's okay, as long as samsara proves to be an educational experience (ah, I have spent many years in Samsara Elementary). What's important is that the suffering you encounter is the suffering that leads to the end of suffering as opposed to the suffering that just leads to more suffering. There has been a quality to some of the days like the dark, foggy fumblings of a bad dream. As in a nightmare, unpleasant things happen and I wander aimlessly in search of solutions. Only on this occasion I am awake, well, sort of.

In this little personal nightmare I am suffering from the effects of stress and environmental toxins brought on by house renovations. There have been the usual host of surprise findings and expenses. We were warned, but like so many things you don't really pay attention until the tarantula lands in your lap. For some reason even though I chose no VOC paint, cork underlay for the wood floors I completely overlooked the issue of off gassing from new cabinetry. And while I chose lovely cement coloured porcelain tile I neglected to consider the chemicals in the grouts and glues used in plumbing sealants. And so what I left unconsidered came to haunt. Isn't that a good Dharma lesson? Doesn't that hold in so many of the arenas of our life? In this case chemical sensitivities stirred with a vengeance. My body offered yet another lesson.

So while my home normally feels like a place refuge, a place to recharge and regroup, I got to experience life with nowhere to take refuge. In a strange way I was homeless, ungrounded, as home became a place that made me feel ill. I had nowhere to hide. The inclination to spin stories of how this would end were enormous. The call of the sirens of depression were alluring. What now? Do I need to rip my kitchen out? Do I need to move? Thrown into all this were some social obligations that left me feeling like a wandering ghost, moving from place to place, going through the motions, feeling unwell, feeling sad that I was unwell, imagining all others as well. Samsara on the personal big screen.

I tried to muster the stations of faith, reminding myself to look up, rather than despair. One moment I could remember, the next I was lost in confusion. I imagined the worst. My physical symptoms seemed stuck. No matter how much wheatgrass juice I drank, how many salads I ate, how much oil of oregano I sucked back, my symptoms were stuck. I followed the little trail of breadcrumbs toward a solution. I even had a nightmare about being trapped in a cul de sac in a hillside neighbourhood! I inched along like a sad little, blind worm. I called a naturopath I have seen. I researched ways of dealing with off gassing. I wandered, disheartened in samsara, looking for an escape hatch. I asked for help. Sometimes I wallowed, sometimes I groped my way forward.

And while I am a rather staunch believer in the worst outcome, this time I was proven wrong. I followed a thread to a biological dentist (my cold symptoms had morphed into dental pain). Surprisingly this grey haired, Harry Potter glassed, wizard helped dislodge my stuck physical symptoms with his bag of holistic tricks. Another day as I sorted lethargically amongst some papers I found a pamphlet for a product from AFM that when painted on cabinetry, minimizes offgassing. Slowly I was making headway and revisiting the land of the living as I wobbled back and forth between hope and despair. Slowly I was cultivating a landscape of possibility.

I learned that the stories I had conjured were habitual delusions and that yes, Virginia sometimes there is a Santa Claus (no dental work required!). I learned how hard it is to rest in the unknown, how it is so uncomfortable that I often prefer a bad bedtime story to no story at all. I learned that some deeply entrenched fears habitually send me heading straight for the panic button. This time around I noticed there is another button on the dashboard. Faintly I read it's tiny letters, "equanimity".

It has been a long, tiring couple of weeks. And there it is, samsara receding in the rearview mirror. But I am reminded that vigilance is an important quality in this life of the Dharma. Sometimes you find your reminders in the strangest places: printed on the bottom of that rearview mirror I find the words: "Objects in the rearview mirror are closer than they appear."


  1. Beautifully written! I love how you tell your story so richly woven with the thread of Awareness, Dharma and Light. Wonderful perspectives throughout that show me the way through my own life process. Thank you! And glad you are returning to the land of the living :)

  2. I am so sorry to read about your illnesses and feelings of despair dealing with your home remodel-- physical surroundings do have an effect on mental and physical well being... but you are searching for the light and refuge and am sure you will find it.

  3. MeANderi - Thanks as always for you support input. Sometimes it is just about winding our way through the fog!

    layers - It is all really just a journey through "what is", learning to be with and work with what appears on our doorstep. Sometimes the way is clear and beautiful and sometimes the way is cloudy. I often find that I learn the most through adversity.

  4. I am so sorry to hear of your travails but so inspired by your ability to report them in such an engaging, non-victim, voice...there isn't a single whine or poor me in the entire telling...
    me thinks ye may be earning a PH.D in Equanimity...while dwelling here in the lands of samsara...

    be well and even 'weller'

  5. Wow! Carole, I am so sorry you have had to experience such hardship to test your equanimity . . . How vulnerable we all are to the minor and big hassles of ordinary life! Makes you humble doesn't it? And also appreciative of the householder life as a most powerful arena for practice. I keep on thinking that the monastery would be an easy way out. :)

    For Christmas, I wish you to reclaim your house fully.

    And may you be well, and at peace, and at ease, and happy . . .

  6. You've been on quite a ride through this house renovation. Glad you're feeling better. That is alarming to think your body was reacting to chemicals from the reno. You haven't wasted any moments though, since you've used this personal nightmare as a learning experience.

    My favorite line: " I learned how hard it is to rest in the unknown, how it is so uncomfortable that I often prefer a bad bedtime story to no story at all."

    This is so true for me. Sometimes equanimity is just barely within my reach.

    Hope you are continuing on your road to equanimity and good health.

  7. Merci 33- Thanks for pointing out the upsides. I have to say I always benefit from adversity in the end!

    Thanks Marguerite for the kind wishes. I must say that I often learn the most from difficult situations. And as you pointed out in a recent post, it is helpful to remember that we are burning up old karma.

    Gallery Juana - Thanks for the kind wishes. And I have to say I am feeling much better and strangely I am more conscious of equanimity and how I can choose it, these days.

  8. a landscape of possibility...

    so wonderful. sending you copious amounts of metta that you and home may be free of toxins!

  9. Ugh! It sounds like you've had a rough time. I hope you're feeling better now. For what it's worth, I've found that lots of house plants help to absorb the chemicals(at least in the case of paints.) And this really was a great post! Thanks!

  10. I know well the path of fear that can lead a sick body into deeper suffering...and I also have learned, as you are, that sometimes there are things we can "do" to change a situation and sometimes we simply have to "be" with it, endurance becoming a friend instead of the enemy...the physical toxins may still be present but the mental toxins can be released when we relax and trust that panic is not the way out and rediscover equanimity within the space of an uncomfortable body...then clarity is attained and solution can be discovered.

    Living with a chronic illness myself, sometimes the solution is not a fix, but simply a "being present to" the reality of the moment...whatever that moment feels like.

    I do hope that you will continue to find ways to make your house a comfort and not a hostile environment for your body and mind.

    May you be blessed with peace and well being as this situation resolves.

  11. 108 ZB - yes what we normally regard as problems are possibilities, it is just a slight turning of the mind! thanks for this reminder and the kind wishes.

    Chong Go Sunim - I am feeling better! And I had read about house plants helping with environmental toxins. Your reminder made me realize that a Dharma friend going away to Thailand delivered me some plants to look after in the midst of all the chaos. I put them in the basement but I think I should bring them upstairs!

    Laura - I am humbled when I know all that you go through physically! And yes to accept what we are experiencing as a "friend". This is such a deep thing to learn at the blood and bones level and really tricky to know when we are simply looking for escape from what is and when our choices are wise. Lots of trial and error and contemplation!