My Own Bit of Buddha Nature

Pre-spinal fusion surgery, I described my gait as ”a drunken Frankenstein.” My neurosurgeon thought it apt.

Subsequent surgery and yoga have improved my walk considerably but my gait is still ”spastic” so there remains a bit of Frankenstein about me and always will. My body is not in synch.

Both hip replacements are great but my spinal cord is damaged from prolonged pinching. I’m among the 70% who show improvement. Still, I stagger sometimes, clumsy comes easily.

My neurologist explains it as residual from the cervical fusion, nothing monstrous, merely minimal–that which could not be restored–so less is better.

Body hardware strengthens sensation–works with the residual–what remains after the damage has been repaired. With less I learn to do more with foreign body parts. That’s as good as it gets.

And that’s the way I live, in an apartment of two rooms–living area/kitchen and bedroom–with a shower/bathroom. Even a full Frankenstein can maneuver here.

And isn’t that what being alive is all about?  Learning to live in the skin we are in and then go exploring. For a time, walking my apartment with a slight stagger is sufficient.

Always, there is writing but with limitations.

There is not enough sensation in my fingers for actual typing. This has been true for the last two and a half years. In this regard, surgery provided no improvement, no change.

What remains is tingling/numbness in my arms and hands, all fingers and both thumbs affected. Yet, what does not change can be good news and in my case, it is.  No healing is possible so maintaining what I have is the goal, and that I am doing.

I’ve been using speech recognition regularly but speaking the written word is not the same as typing it. Sounds silly but the thought process is different, completely different.

For me, editing speech recognition is slow going. My brain commands my fingers–hunt and peck–but the keys they stroke seem to be their decisions alone.

Even so, I am book-building now, which limits the number of my blog posts but blogging is an integral part of my life, especially as I found myself becoming a bit of a Frankenstein.

How that happened is all here on this blog so I continue to post, from time to time. It’s comfortable here. I hope for you, too.

I am excited about this book because it is not like anything I have attempted before. There is a freshness in it. Like the residual that is me, much remains to be explored. And so, I am.

My one bedroom apartment is not the world, no matter how much the Internet introduces. Ironically, it is the online world that opens me to what is outside my door.

Quickly, I go nowhere without a walker but not the orthopedic wonders forced upon me after each surgery.  Companions they may be– to take me from one seat to another–but they are not friends, not wheels to the world.

I find my walker on the Internet, after much research, and I admit to hubris when it comes to the uniqueness of my wheels. So far, I have seen no other like it.

It feels more a motorcycle than a legged triangle on wheels with grocery basket and backpack. Silver handlebars bars with black, bike-like grips, it offers no seat but three gravel-gray wheels thick enough for trails, if I am careful, and I am.

I can zoom around people, snake though grocery store aisles. My mobility startles shoppers; free-wheeling I call it. Not my best moments, admittedly, but disability does not mean I walk with saints.

My walker may be my own bit of Buddha nature, my constant in the chaos. It is wheels for life–mine–as good as it gets.

The Grace of Acceptance

I continually grasp at life, clinging to what will not be held. I want to lie in the arms of acceptance, wrap myself in its grace.

Because once in a while I get a glimpse of Buddha nature, the backdrop against which the chaos of our everyday lives plays out.

I want to define what defies definition.

I suppose I just want to know where I stand, to which Pema Chödrön would remind me that only in groundlessness do I find my center. And that’s where acceptance is too, I think.

There is a lot of worry in that word, acceptance. I know it is a long moment and has nothing to do with approval, agreement, or acquiescing. Acceptance is living the every day with grace, embracing the daily risk.

That requires acceptance of circumstances–as they are for as long as they are–with “unconditional friendliness” toward ourselves. Who we are, as we are. That is Maitri. That is grace.

It moves us to deeds we once thought impossible. It unlocks us, and each day brings us “new grace” as Eberhard Arnold tells us.

I am a risk taker. Won’t settle for satisfactory. Never have. That doesn’t sound unconditionally friendly, does it? It sounds more like someone in search of a key for a lock.

Yet, I am not inflexible. I know the future is limitless. It is mine to explore the full experience of being alive. I really try to do that, no matter how many times my life lens changes.

I am most engaged when I’m completely present to my task, immersed in risk without ever a thought to it. Mine is not to control but to experience.  Without fail, the more groundless I am, the more centered I feel.

While it seems impossible at first,

you soon recognize that with everything

there is a point of balance

and you just have to find it.

(Amy Tan)

I suspect this is how we effect change everywhere–in tiny touches–surprising feats of strength all on their own. They allow us to enlarge our sense of things.

Far too often, I get lost in the minutia.

There is an oft-told story about a Hindu master and his apprentice who–I think–had a similar problem. The Hindu master sends the apprentice to purchase salt.

He tells the apprentice to put some salt into a glass of water and drink it. The apprentice says the water is bitter. The master agrees.

They go to a lake where the master tells the apprentice to throw in a handful of salt. The Hindu master instructs the apprentice to drink; he says the water tastes fresh.

Life is bitter the Hindu master says, “pure salt.” The taste of life depends upon whether we sip it from a glass or a lake. “The only thing [we] can do is … enlarge [our] sense of things.… become a lake.” (Version of Hindu story from Mark Nepo’s Book of Awakening).

This is why I meditate, to sip from something larger than life. Not to escape its bitterness but to become a lake, as comfortable with chaos as I am with constancy. To live where grace resides, in impermanence.

St. Mark's Refuge; Gulf of Mexico; KMHuberImage

Whether we confine ourselves to a single glass of water or become a lake depends upon how “friendly” we are with ourselves, whether or not we drink in our confusion as readily as our sanity.

Accepting that what fuels our fire creates the circumstances of our lives. May we live in the grace of that acceptance.

Life is like that.

We don’t know anything.

We call something bad;

we call it good.

But really we just don’t know.

Pema Chödrön

One Long Moment

Acceptance is a lifetime practice–one long moment–less about events and more about impermanence.

I know the drill. Everything is going fine, life is good, and in a nanosecond, the entire landscape changes. It’s a new life lens: the joy of the extraordinary or the bottomless gulf of grief–and everything in between.

Life will not be as I want it, no matter how hard I hold or push it away. Somewhere between these two is a moment of not clinging and not avoiding–accepting what is–where forgiveness is not such a chore, its heady fragrance in the crushed petal of the violet. Life has changed.

Mine is to accept the experience–come what may–as neither doormat nor fortress. In acceptance, I respond with compassion. It may not be what others want but if I am mindful, I offer all I am able.

The older I am, the more I accept what a treasure change is.  Still, I am a slow learner and sometimes given to stubbornness, steeped in the fear of being old. Yet, at any age, I am who I am.

Acceptance will not sit with fear. There is no room. The fragrance of forgiveness too heady. The pull of the life experience too strong.

I think that is the seat of self. Ageless? I don’t know.

It is the body that ages and mine not so well. I look older than my years; I have since my 50s. In my mid 30s the right side of my face began to sag.

Too much medication, wrong kind of medication, not enough medication. I don’t know. Maybe it would’ve happened anyway. I really haven’t noticed in these last years.

These days my visage sags with wrinkles, like the smoker’s lines above my lips. I don’t single out any one face furrow. They are the lines of my life, altogether.

Although I no longer drink, I once drank heavily. I know how fortunate I am in not missing alcohol. I thought it a change I would never make. Same with smoking.

I discovered that finding “life in the present” is as heady an experience as any martini—more so, actually—even better than the cigarette after dinner or sex.

Aging keeps me curious; judgment feels unreliable because it is. Aging reveals me as I am, flawed but ever viable. I need neither regret nor expectation. Who wants boomerangs?

In awe, I sit in the seat of self, where all gifts are given and received. Some are surprises, not all an easy open.

I may have an expiration date but the energy that animates this entire physical dimension does not. I’m not trying to stop any processes. I want to learn the grace of acceptance.

The body is a marvel at adapting to change. It is lifetime acceptance in action, forgiveness a given. All I need do is follow its lead and keep my life lens open.

The Look of Failure

Failure is its own kind of boomerang, and the sooner taken in hand the better for everyone. I know this, which is not to say that is what I do.

I’ve learned that to reach for failure is to seize the spectacular. I avoid it for as long as possible. I stay in step with my ego as it tells me, quite forcefully: “Just keep at it. It will work.”

All the while my body sends signal after signal to stop: ”This is not working. Let it go.”

My heart opens to failure as my ego flashes a neon sign: “Don’t screw this up.”  Of course, I already have. I am too busy to hear the sound of failure.

Ever patient, my heart shows me a seat to the spectacular while my ego offers only the slough of despond.

Only to the extent that we expose ourselves

over and over to annihilation

can that which is indestructible

be found in us.

Pema Chödrön in When Things Fall Apart

Exactly.

This is a failure I feel in my bones, literally, and my heart oozes with pain. I did visit the shores of the slough of despond momentarily, too tired to indulge in labels and finger-pointing, mostly at myself.

After spending the last 24 hours alternating between sleep and the meditative state, I hold failure’s boomerang in hand, feeling anything but spectacular. Still, I stay in my seat.

When things fall apart, it is not an easy view. Yet, the heart is compassionate and knows nothing is revealed in angst. That is a scene best left on the cutting room floor.

Best to begin from the beginning.

This past week, I signed on for a writing gig that may have been possible back in the day–eight or nine years ago, maybe longer.

Yet even with better health and greater stamina, it would have been challenging, as I did not have sufficient background. I had to spend too much time researching, which did not leave me enough time to write.

I kept working harder but not smarter. If I had, I would have heard the sound of failure.

I was fortunate to have a thoughtful and compassionate editor who recognized my limitations and as much as she helped me, there was no meeting the deadline.

It was up to me–and no one else–to say, “I cannot do this.” I waited too long and now others must scramble to complete my work, in addition to their own. My concern for failure was greater than my consideration for my colleagues.

Therein lies most of my pain but what is done is done. To anguish over what cannot be changed benefits no one. That is not admitting failure. That is hopelessness.

KMHuberImage; Mudhen; St. Mark's Refuge; Northern FL

To admit failure is to fall apart. Only in such moments does forgiveness reveal itself. I suppose that doesn’t seem spectacular—maybe I misuse the word–yet to sit in the seat of self reveals the human drama, and I know of no more breathtaking experience.

Only the heart can put on such a spectacular show, absorbing the annihilation that failure feels without judgment or looking through the colored lens of blame.

Failure reveals more than a wrinkled reflection; it is beyond the reach of any selfie filter. It is not a gloss. A reflection ripples with the tide or the wind, never providing more than a moment’s glance.

It is the mirror of the heart that reveals all failure, each one its own crack, healed in its own time. Forgiveness is the glue and knows no deadline only the steady beat of renewal. And that is indestructible. To me, spectacular.

The Sound of Breath

Lately, the sound of my breath is interrupting my morning meditation. It’s noisy, calling attention to itself. I am not just exhaling. I am “pushing” my breath, hurrying it along.

It is as if I hear the sound of my thoughts and use my breath to expel them–emptying my mind and closing it off.

These thoughts are a part of me, words with images. With each breath, I expel a load. These days, the sound of my breath is gale force, far from mindful.

At every moment where language can’t go, that is your mind.
Bodhidharma

I guess that is where I try to go every morning for an hour or so and then take a bit of that into the rest of my day. It’s tricky, this mindfulness stuff.

I remind myself about the stories of the Buddha realizing what enlightenment means. It is a gift but the experience of it is life changing. It is not floating around in peace in a never-ending story.

Well, it is but getting there is giving up a lot like language, labels and learning to share space with all living things. The activities of daily living don’t magically stop or become unnecessary.

It’s just the perspective that changes. It’s a completely different lens.

Sogyal Rinpoche illustrates with the example of empty jar or vase. There is air inside and outside. What separates is substance, clay in this case.

Our Buddha mind is enclosed within the

walls of our ordinary mind.

But when we become enlightened,

it is as if the vase shatters into pieces. 

 Sogyal Rinpoche, Glimpse of the Day

And then the sound of breath is soundless. Until then, patience is my practice.

Marianne Williamson says “infinite patience yields immediate results.” I don’t disagree. I think there is a glimpse, a moment when there is a favorable shift in the odds. In other words, growing awareness.

No overnight enlightenment for me, and I’m okay with that.

Patience resides in the hard places, where it hurts the most to be, physically or emotionally. To sit with the pain is patience. It takes trust.

The minute the struggle to sit stops, that’s the when the odds shift from suffering to acceptance. The pain may be less or may be more but there is no more holding onto it.

Infinite patience, immediate results.

It is the “unpleasant experience” in which I hear the sound of my breath, forcing words to empty the mind, which is not to say the words will not return.

They do, in Technicolor–full image–even a movie if I allow my memory its way.

My ego has superstar status when I lack compassion, refuse to listen to a point of view so opposite from mine. It is unpleasant, at times frightening, and every time I turn away from “the enemy,” I turn away from myself.

I hide in the jar of my “ordinary” mind, seeking solace but staying separate from my “Buddha” mind. In frustration, I breathe and the words keep coming.

I know of no Zen or Buddhist teacher that does not advise both patience and tolerance as well as interaction with our enemies. Not on a full-time basis but to seek what separates us.

Break through the clay, completely cast it aside.

It’s not about changing anyone into what they are not.  It is about breathing the same air with everyone else, soundlessly.

A Place Not Far Away At All

I once believed peace a place far away, a land I would never know. I had too many bad habits, too many questions. How could I find time for peace?

Turns out peace is available in every moment, always an option. My choice. No two moments are alike so accepting and accessing peace lasts a lifetime.

I choose Zen as my practice but peace is not picky. There is no one way to peace and for every way there is an open shore.

Initially, I thought if I meditated every day for five minutes, 15 minutes, or an hour I would know stillness. Not exactly. I was still assigning peace a label.

Sometimes, I sit in stillness but the whir of thought–chaos–is more my meditative state. Mine is mindfulness meditation rather than transcendental. I meditate in the moment just as it is.

Remnants of that meditative state are what I bring into my day, sitting in the seat of self, as the emotion of the day–the chaos–plays out. Rather than judging, I find strength, something I once sought outside myself.

There is peace in such trust of the self. It takes the fear out of emotions. Within, I let them rage until I discover what it is they are really about. They are remarkable tools, emotions.

To let the storm rage is to sit in the safety of the self. Then and only then am I able to make a mindful response rather than getting tangled up in self-righteousness. The world does not need any more of that.

I have an increasing appreciation for the singularity of the candle, its flame stands brightly no matter the odds. At some point every wick gives way to a puddle of wax.

That doesn’t sound very reassuring or peaceful but it is, I suspect. To find stillness in the middle of chaos–to sit in the eye of the storm–is to know peace.

It’s the hardest thing I ever do, living in the present moment. Maybe it’s the only worthwhile thing I’ve ever tried.

Fear gives way to mindfulness. It puddles up. It simply is no match for mindfulness. I am not sure what is.

From what I know of history, worldwide mindfulness is one weapon we have not leashed upon the world. If we had, we would know.

Albert Schweitzer wrote, ”We cannot continue in this paralyzing mistrust…another spirit must enter into the people….” Exactly.

Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön said if we ”want to effect change it is not through self-righteous anger.” No, it is not.

What might this other spirit look like? How else to navigate the chaos that is the life experience?

It is not as if the demands of the day line up neatly. They sail in from everywhere. Some are arrows that wound deep. Others are boomerangs, visits from previous poor choices, demanding yet another decision.

It is up to me decide every day, confining myself to what is and not what might be or is no more. That is the focus of trust–peace–perhaps lasting no longer than my next breath.

It’s not how long it lasts but that it is always available. For me, that is Zen—easy, uneasy.

The Energy of Being in the Moment

I found a way of walking on air with prednisone this past week. It has been more mindful than you might think. And groundlessness was the key.

I would not have suspected that prednisone would provide yet another perspective on Pema Chödrön’s teaching of groundlessness.

In other words, work with the reality I have–be and stay present. Not something I had ever tried with a prednisone increase to reset rather than rejuvenate my body.

Initially, being present seemed counterintuitive. Why not go with the energy and have a few days of doing things like everyone else? Was that not being in the moment?

Not a one of us gets life full-blown forever. No one light shines without going dark. And even if it did, our appreciation would go blind.

Life is never about going back. It turns on a dime. Whether it stays on edge or lands on heads/tails, it is a new tale to tell every turn.

I remembered why I finally turned to meditation as a serious practice. I had no place else to go, nothing else to try. I wanted meditation to be a panacea but nothing is in isolation.

Some days, there is a clarity in meditation for which I have only the experience–no words. Other days, the thought chatter reduces me to tears.

I no longer show up with expectations.

It is the only way to wake up in a dark night of the soul and find a sliver of light. What else is the present moment other than a single sliver, just enough to light the night.

Some days stay all but dark. In this world, to get up in the morning is an act of courage for anyone. Life is not a Pollyanna prance.

What is more frightening than being in the moment? In other words, what I feared most about being in the moment was being in the moment.

But each day is all I ever have. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow a mere maybe. Both are mucky lands of “what if.”

It is only in the present that I settle into groundlessness. No thing and no one stays. The fabric of life–of what we take hold–is its impermanent experience. Maybe that is magic. I don’t know.

I once believed there to be a bit of magic in prednisone. After all, its possibilities seemed endless because energy is just that—endless. But I am finite.

This past week’s increase in prednisone has been unlike any other for me. It did not start out that way.

Old behaviors kicked in immediately. Within hours, I was anywhere but the present, my thoughts spinning with the possibilities of a six-day energy spree.

That kind of energy is so seductive, rather like chocolate. And too much of a good thing is just that. If meditation has taught me anything, it has taught me the power of pause.

I could exhaust myself with energy and at the end of six days, be in worse shape than when I started. Just a mere sliver of light that moment but it seemed a beacon.

That is how mindfulness rolls, a singular sweep of the scene, weaving one moment into another. An undulating tapestry. A web without a weaver.