It's been a very strange week. I've been propped up in my bed, distorting my mind with cold remedies and codeine cough syrup, the sound of my own wheezing morphing into the sound of children crying for help in my dreams. My subconscious. Best to leave it alone.
I take care of patients who have life threatening hematologic malignancies. The treatment is lethal if not for the rescue, the infusion of immune-system-growing stem cells. Usually the transplant itself is a success. It's the complications, infections and damage to other organ systems, that can cause the big problems. Still I love this work. I've left it many times to work in other hospitals, other specialties, but I always have stayed connected to this particular unit and currently work there full-time. I love the fight. I love being able to feel that I make a difference for people who are having some of the worst moments of their lives. I love it when people get better and go home to their parents and children. Even when it doesn't work out that way, I love it that we really really tried. All that love aside, I've brought enough bodies to the morgue over my twenty year career to sink a small ship and it's always sobering, never fun. The benefit is truly understanding that bodies are not what we are though sometimes it's hard to remember, and not always comforting.
This week, a young physician from our hospital was involved in a freak accident. A piece of scaffolding blew off the side of a building onto the roof of his car. When all was said and done, he and two constuctions workers were no longer alive. Then the nursing supervisor came by with sad news of a young man unable to be resuscitated in the emergency room, a stones throw away from away the new building under construction across the street: a state-of-the-art cardiac center.
I think that's when I started to catch my cold. Some symbolic contracture of my 4th chakra, encompassing my heart and lungs hollering, "Enough!" The cruel twist is that my most effective means of being with and transforming difficult feelings is unavailable to me when I can't meditate in my usual way! I mean liberation cannot be dependent on being able to breath through your nose, I tell my pitiful self. So it's been a matter of observe, observe, name, name....just be here, just be with.
Lying with my head on three pillows, I review what my teacher says about no birth, no death, continuation, sufficient conditions. I recall my teacher Thay's dharma talk from the last day of retreat last summer. Actually he's given a similar talk the last day of the three retreats I've been lucky enough to attend. I think he has said that it is the most important of the Buddha's teachings. In it he lights a match asking the children before him, "Where did the little flame come from?" and blowing it out, "Where did our friend flame go?" and in a short time, kids who are years away from having a drivers license are considering interdependent origination: no birth, no death, no fear. And all of us are being reminded to look deeply into the nature of our fear of non-being, so that we can transform suffering and increase our capacity to be solid, calm, and peaceful, bringing happiness to ourselves and others.
The most touching part of the talk is when he says, and I paraphrase, "If you should hear in the future that Thay has died, don't you believe it. Don't believe email, fax, telephone. My nature is the nature of no birth, no death. I will be here in you and all around you, if you have the eyes of wisdom to see." You can see it in his eyes. They are shining. He really means it. He believes it.
I decide to try to believe too. Staying, staying with my feelings, fears, with my inability to breathe at the present moment, I am grateful for my body's wisdom. I am grateful for the unplanned break from my usual tasks, time to lie in my bed and ponder. And I pray for the eyes of wisdom.
Authentic Kindness of the Heart