Thursday, 13 August 2015

Yep, It's Still OK

To recap a blog I wrote here a couple months ago ("No, Really, it's OK"), my partner had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. There was some question as to whether chemotherapy would be needed, but at the very least radiation was required after the surgery. To make a 6-week long story short, radiation finished today. Five days a week for six weeks, radiation. Tomorrow, no more radiation.

In the previous blog I remarked how neither of us panicked about it, or projected too far ahead, and for me, that was a credit to my practice. I'm sticking with that. The main difference between the way she handled it and I did, was that when she heard chemo was a possibility, she went out and bought hats, and talked to her hairdresser about what to do about the possibility of hair loss. The furthest I went down that road was to volunteer to sympathy-shave my head, and that was basically an excuse to do that. (How many Zen priests do you know with full heads of hair, I ask you?)

Zen Master Seung Sahn told a story about when he was in the hospital for heart problems. His doctors suggested to him that he might try meditating to help his heart heal. If it had been me in the bed, I might have given them one of my "one-eyebrow-raised-in-chagrin" looks, but Dae Soen Sa Nim smiled and said he'd give it a try. This was back in 1977, so meditation was the cool new thing at the time, I suppose. He did meditate, and his heart problems lessened fairly quickly. But what he told the doctors was that this "fix your body" meditation was not correct meditation. 

"Clear mind," [he] told them, "means moment to moment, what are you doing now? When you are with your patients, only 100% keep doctor's mind. When you leave the hospital and you are driving home, 100% keep driver's mind. When you meet your wife, 100% keep husband's mind. This means, each moment, only go straight--don't make 'I', 'My', 'Me'. If you make 'I', 'My', 'Me', then your opinion, your condition, your situation appear. Then, you have a problem".
For the doctors, when they were operating, they just operate. When driving, just drive. Those are some pretty clear examples of those "life and death" times when intense concentration and reflexive action are called for.
But in mundane daily life, where are not those "life and death" situations confronting us, how often can we go about our business and keep clear mind? This is bigger than just "mindfulness," as it seems to me that is much like meditation was in 1977. Real mindfulness isn't just a trick to reduce stress--although it can. It's not even necessarily about "being in the present moment"--although that's certainly part of it.

True mindfulness is being in the present moment, even those moments we don't like. Correct meditation, true mindfulness, is laying on a table with some laser beam from the 22nd Century pointed at you, arms up in some contorted position, and not feeling sorry for yourself, not taking cancer personally. For me, it was listening, being as supportive as I could, and at least to some extent, not freaking out if only to help her not feel like she needed to freak out.

It's easy to be "one with everything" when it's all rainbow/unicorn kittens with wings. When it's sitting in the umpteenth  meeting that day, trying to fill out a government form, listening to political talk shows and the like, not so easy. But Sengcan, Third Zen Patriarch Patriarch said in the Xinxin Ming, "The Great Way is easy for those who do not pick and choose." 

There's a lesson in that, if only about the amount of picking and choosing we do. And I guess until we all realize the Buddhas we're capable of being, we can see when we pick and choose, and even get to a point where even the uncomfortable is only uncomfortable, not the wrath of the gods raining down on us. It isn't easy to do 100% of the time, but by applying the practice, especially when you don't think, "Oh, I'm applying what I heard in the Dharma Hall," it gets closer to Sengcan's "easy". 

When driving, just drive. When wielding a scalpel, just wield a scalpel. When radiating, just radiate.