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 Case for Chaos

Increasingly, I choose chaos over suffering. It’s a conscious act, one I have come to know as sitting in the seat of Zen.

The Buddha taught suffering and ending suffering. There’s no avoiding pain. It is integral to the life experience. How I deal with pain determines whether I suffer.

This is usually where chaos ensues. 🙂

Pain arrives like any other experience, a visit from the unknown. If I sit in the seat of Zen, I am without expectation, open to what is being offered. Welcome or unwelcome, the experience changes me.

It is not the nature of life to suffer. Pain is only one experience and like all every other one, it is merely passing through. No one experience frames a life unless we do not let go.

Being chronically ill offers me various levels of pain but sitting in the seat of Zen offers me a life lens to adjust to whatever light is present in varying perspective.

I have demanded much of my body. It has responded beyond my wildest expectations, often adjusting in ways I am late to discover but become aware of nonetheless.

As Anne Lamont said, grace finds us in one state and leaves us in another. It strips us to our core—revealing us as we are, transforming us from what we were. It is the heart that must make the mind bold to life anew, and somehow, it always does.

This past week, I visited my neurologist who advised that while there is no improvement in my cervical spondylotic myelopathy, there is no change, either.

The tingling in my fingers will not subside nor will sensation replace numbness in my hands.

I’ve known this since the cervical fusion failed in 2015 but to know and to bear are often different worlds.

I may be able to push my fist through a wave of impermanence but I will still be knocked to the ground. And there is no out running the wave—ever. Mine is to be, to experience.

Hollow comfort that when fear is in abundance but I don’t have to be fearless, just a little bit curious, that is sliver of light enough.

What now for my hands and arms? The answer is what it has always been, world-building “around the tiniest of touches” (Carol Rifka Brunt).

I have a reverence for the capabilities of the “opposable thumb,” probably because my thumbs feel more in opposition than opposable. Yet, there remain possibilities.

If I ignore the “tiniest touches,” I will drop the plate or the egg. I must be completely present to my task. Less focus is required in lifting my collapsible walker in and out of my car. In gripping the walker, tingling streams through my hands, the “tiniest of touches.”

I no longer wrap my mind around that one moment when all life will seem in balance. I once worked toward such a freeze-frame but it left me lacking. In all the imperfection of impermanence, I would rather its wave.

How easy it is to forget that we are world builders–our one life experience so chaotic, so full of grace.

The Expedition of No Return

“You are one injury away from becoming a quadriplegic.”

“Now, you are not pregnant, right?”

Both of these sentences are great openers for blog posts. Certainly, each could be its own blog post. Yet, these two statements reveal the range of emotion as well as the kinds of obstacles that marked my recent health expedition.

In my last post, I referred to my mind-body expedition as the exploration of the two as one, a single continent. I knew I did not have a map, not that I am one for maps. They are so…directional.

This was not that kind of expedition. That, I also knew. And it turned out I was correct. The number of detours/new routes still stun me. I am not returned from the expedition–not really–for I am no longer the person who left.

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With detours, direction constantly changes. Consider the issue of my being pregnant, at the age of almost 63. “Almost” is the operative word. Neither the fact that I have a uterus and have not had a tubal ligation would have been questioned if I had been 63, as I will be a month from today.

The pregnancy test was a pre-op procedure requirement. The morning of my spinal cord surgery I was informed the test showed lightly pregnant, whatever that may mean. Another test was required, which showed negative.

I could not have waited any longer for the surgery. The statement regarding quadriplegia was no exaggeration. My spinal cord was pinched at the C3-4, C4-5 vertebrae in my neck. Each day, the deterioration in all of my limbs increased.

This was no detour but an entirely new route, and a life-changing one at that. There are no maps for life-changing events for the route chosen is, ultimately, the new life to be lived.

Yet, there is order in chaos, always has been. I think it is Buddha nature, the permanence in impermanence. Life plays out against this backdrop of constancy where all is ever in balance. It allows us to meet the chaos of our present and then, to let it go.

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Returning to the land of traditional medicine was full of detours/potholes/obstacles too numerous to mention but too many ever to forget. But this is not a post about traditional medicine. That is for another day.

This is a post about meeting life anew. I am not what I was, which was its own kind of strength. Now, I am the mind-body I create. That is the test of strength I face.

Strength, as Brenda Shaughnessy writes, is to “acknowledge each…feeling, question, and idea in faith and terror, a meeting that comes with the full force of your heart.”

I do my best to keep my heart over my head as I make decisions. I suspect that may be why I woke up from my surgery “happy.” Truly. A friend said I was beaming. It felt then and now like new life.

It is early days yet as the cervical myelopathy surgery was July 6. Essentially, I had surgery to decompress my spinal cord. The surgery involved removing two discs, replacing the discs with bone and then fusing the two with a plate and screws. The cause was not lupus but degenerative disc disease, first diagnosed in 2000.

The surgery is to keep more damage from happening. It is not a surgery to recover sensation. That said, 70% report some improvement. I am glad to be among those who see consistent improvement.

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Before the surgery, my gait was like a Frankenstein, drunken stagger. I had to have a surface to touch to be able to walk at all. Now, my gait is almost normal, if I use a walker.

A cane will steady me, and in my apartment, I practice putting one foot in front of the other, literally. There is progress every day.  My gait is the best it has been in months.

I have returned to using voice recognition software for typing is still too frustrating. The numbness/tingling/grittiness in my hands and thumbs remains but is decreasing. I am able to grasp and hold onto objects with more than reasonable assurance.Every Day 0215

This is a new life, an unknown, part of the chaos of being alive. And in the background is the permanence of impermanence.

The generosity and support of online and off-line friends has been like winning the lottery. I do not purchase lottery tickets and now, there is no need. I already won.

My refrigerator was always full, rides were available wherever I needed to go, and friends waited with me for hours and hours as we made our way through the medical maze. Online messages of support appeared daily.

I have read and reread the comments of the two preceding posts. Just know each word is its own bit of light, day or night, and I carried your words with me then and now.

I am not who I was when I began this expedition. It could be as long as a year before I know how full my recovery will be. There is no returning to what was nor should there be. I have a better idea of my mind-body continent. I will begin there.

Early on in the expedition, I was given these words for my journey. I have kept them with me in all moments, and before every morning’s meditation, I look at the Chinese characters:

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“Be patient and endure while

The wind will calm, the waves subside

Draw back a step and realize

The boundless ocean, the vastness of heaven”

And so I do.

 

 

Upon Closer Reflection, Comfort in Chaos

Last week, I wrote of finding balance and the ongoing shifting of left and right until balance arrives of its own accord. Osho refers to this as a “graceful” shifting, which for me it has never been.

Rather, it has been a struggle, one worth taking on but very like sitting in a cave of chaos. I have not found grace there—not yet—but I discovered comfort, thanks to reader comments on last week’s post.

Comfort comes from accepting that balance is in constant motion. It is impermanent. When I start to squirm, I know I have shifted too far one way. It is time to let go and begin to swing back.

Balance is not identifying with left or right because in balance, I am both. Standing in the middle of a moment is mindful, and I have all the time I need.

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I experience moments I wish would stay forever. There are others I am convinced will never leave but being alive is being in motion as no moment ever stays. Life touches us—painfully, indescribably, unbelievably–myriad experiences ever in motion.

It’s chaotic. And it seems I have found comfort in that.

The reason everything looks beautiful is
because it is out of balance,
but its background is always in perfect harmony.

This is how everything exists
in the realm of Buddha nature, losing its balance
against a background of perfect balance.

~Shunryu Suzuki~

In looking at past posts, variations of the Suzuki quote appear in one form or another at least annually, sometimes more. Yet, this year is different. Why? I have a physical sense of balance.

Regular readers know I recently explored northern Florida with a dear friend. We covered over 500 miles in four days, which for a person with lupus is too much sustained activity. I am grateful for every moment, and yes, I was exhausted.

I am used to the routine of resting that usually follows such an outing. I  break from life, including blogging and writing. I shift from full days of activity to days of complete inactivity. Always, that has been the way.

Not. This. Time.

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I do not remember consciously thinking of Suzuki’s “perfect balance of existence” but it seems my subconscious decided to trust it. I shifted my resources, not gracefully but gradually, with a certain awareness of the ever-changing balance in each moment.

Oh, there were moments of despair but they were brief, not worthy of support. I could not rouse myself to give in, give up, and wait. There was no life in that.

Rather, I immersed myself in each day, looking to the balance available to me. I communicated with my pain—sensing its signals—without struggling but with shifting.

When I went to my acupuncture appointment, my meridians overflowed with energy. An acupuncture point full of Qi (energy) signals stagnation; the needle is the stimulation to release it.

Point after point, Dr. Gold’s needles provided relief. I did not want that treatment to end–the release was that deep and that immediate. When I arrived, my overall pain level was a solid 8, my knees a 10. The treatment reduced my overall pain to a 3; in some locations, the pain was gone.

Resting came easier as did my sleep. My level of body energy, no longer trapped, shifted to the daily balance available. The body is graceful when allowed to do its work in its own way.

Acupuncture opened me to trusting the chaotic nature of balance. It is not the nature of balance or mine to stagnate. Ours is to be in the constant chaos.

My readers’ comments opened me to just how exceptional that is. Thank you, dear readers.

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Maintaining Moderation Requires Graceful Shifting

For me, moderation is elusive. I struggle for balance—the measure of moderation—at times, my struggling is painful.  When I become aware of pain, however, is when I cease suffering from it. I aim for even on the day I have rather than going in search of the day I want.

[When] balance comes of its own accord…

[it] has tremendous beauty and grace.

You have not forced it, it has simply come.

By moving gracefully to the left,

to the right, in the middle,

slowly a balance comes to you

because you remain so unidentified.

~Osho~

Osho’s words remind me of Michael Singer’s observer: “There is nothing more important to true growth than realizing that you are not the voice of the mind. You are the one who hears it” (The Untethered Soul).

I find his image of the observer quite helpful in finding the balance in any moment but especially in those where I am on the edge of right or dropping off far left.  As the observer, I have an immediate distance and thus, a broader perspective much like what happens in writing.

The thoughts are in my mind and with my fingers on the keyboard I search for consonants and vowels to create a physical representation of the thought.

The distance between the ever evolving thought and its concrete representation—the word(s)—moves me closer to the center. I am not identifying with the left or the right as I move to the center–not always with grace, I admit.

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That may be the overall process of moderation—each of us has our unique way with it—and at one time or another, we struggle with it. Why? We have to let go of what we have to receive what we are given. To me, that is the grace of moderation.

It means keeping the “big picture” in mind.  Whether we are discussing diet, climate change, or the world future generations will inherit. And that’s difficult to do. In terms of global issues, the big picture now looming is an ominous one.

In seeking a balance for a better world—finding moderation—we have to change the way we live, maybe even who we are. Balance—the measure of moderation—is a constant shift, an adjustment to the world as it currently exists. That will determine the world that is yet to come.

Often, the task feels overwhelming, especially if we anticipate a future we cannot know or gnash our teeth over a past that cannot be changed. All we have is the moment to gracefully move a little left or right to maintain our balance.

We begin with observing the life we know best–our own—ever aware of doing no harm to no thing, to no one. Then, we move gracefully to the right or to the left as life comes at us only to leave us. And when we leave, ultimately, both left and right are increased rather than diminished.

Not so Much but Just Enough

The whole harmony of life is a balancing act–not too tight, not too loose. It is not static—this Yin-Yang balance—it is in constant motion, ever impermanent as it shifts and adapts but always it is whole, complete.

The phrase “not too tight, not too loose” is associated with a well-known Buddhist story about a musician—he is a sitar or lute player depending upon the version–who comes to the Buddha for advice on meditating.

No and No 0914The Buddha advises the musician to consider his musical instrument as he asks, “What happens if you turn the strings too tightly?”

“The strings break,” the musician answers.

“And when the strings are not tight enough?”

The musician replies, “They are too loose. A string in tune is neither too tight nor too loose.”

Not too tight, not too loose is the elegant simplicity of balance, whether we are tuning a musical instrument, practicing meditation, or just living our lives day-to-day. Ultimately, imbalance finds balance.

The constant adjusting of imbalance plays out against the backdrop of life ever in motion and always in perfect balance. That is the wholeness of Buddha nature where cacophony finds its way to harmony, ultimately.

The tuning of strings on wood is straightforward but for human beings with so many ways to adjust and adapt what is too much or not enough is not always as obvious.

It is helpful when there is a buddha to ask, although the face of a buddha is not always recognized.

We meet ourselves time and again

in a thousand disguises on the path of life.

Carl Jung

These disguises, or buddhas, are mirrors of well-known behaviors, the “ineffable flux that makes a person a unique being” (Ted Kaptchuk). It is for us to look into each mirror, to seek the unique in the familiar, to open to life as it is revealed. If not, we could miss meeting a buddha.

The uniqueness is the chaos of being alive—the struggle for balance—within the constancy of life, whole in its harmony. Like the strings of the lute, living requires a fine tuning between too much and not enough. And for the sitar, it is how it sings.
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There is no standard or absolute–what is health for one person may be sickness in another. There is no notion of “normal” Yin-Yang–only the unique challenges and possibilities of each human life.

(Ted Kaptchuk, The Web That Has No Weaver)

As Lao Tzu said, “he who stands on tiptoe is not steady” for the only constancy in Yin-Yang is that it—and us—are ever in flux. There is no one health for all, no normal for anyone. There is only the fine tuning of living—not too tight, not too loose—in attaining balance, momentary as it may be.

Nothing remains; everything passes by.
The only thing that always abides is your witnessing.

That witnessing brings balance.
That witnessing is balance.

~Osho~

Always, there is the passing parade of buddhas, in one disguise after another.

Perhaps a Glimpse of Buddha Nature

Every once in a while I think I catch a glimpse of Buddha nature. Actually, it is more of a feeling than an actual sighting. In other words, any “aha-moment” vanishes the moment the recognition is mine. I suspect that is how it always is with Buddha nature.

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Even the term, Buddha nature, is known by many other names. For me, it is the eternal aspect of existence–energy vibrating in infinite dimensions and form as matter and anti-matter—creating a background of immutable harmony so that we are able to live our lives with choice.

The reason everything looks beautiful is because it is out of balance, but its background is always in perfect harmony.

This is how everything exists in the realm of Buddha nature, losing its balance against a background of perfect balance.

~Shunryu Suzuki~

Suzuki’s description is a familiar one on this blog, as I have cited it many times. For me, it is the essence of the feeling I get whenever I sense Buddha nature. No matter the definition or description, the idea of a balanced background against the days of our lives means we always have options.

For me, Buddha nature is what I am and have been from my inception, the blank canvas that was me at birth. If I look closely at this painting that is my life, its background is in perfect balance, allowing me to lose and regain myself moment after moment.

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Dates and years frame the triptych of my past, present, and future. I am the artist’s brush, swirling with the color of every choice, stroke after stroke on the canvas that is my moment in Buddha nature. Its balanced background—the context of my life—absorbs the outcome of each moment that is my life.

Buddha nature does not allow me to slide through my life unaware or it does. The choice is mine. In any given moment it is up to me how aware I am of my own brush stroke. In mindful moments is when I glimpse Buddha nature.

The moment is hazy at first, floating in and out like any other, yet its rhythm is different, like an undercurrent that absorbs rather than pulls. Maybe this is what synchronicity is; regardless, I am immersed in it. In such a moment, the ending is as uncertain as is the beginning but I am bothered by neither.

Rather, it is like a story that begins with “once upon a time” and ends with ever after and forever. I am confident there is a bridge between the beginning and the end and indifferent to the outcome. Buddha nature has the essence of a rainbow, a bridge to and from and back again.

Only life is in flux, neither ending nor beginning but always being, not a snapping of photographs or a study in stillness but a series of scene changes as the stroke of the artist aligns with change against the constancy of Buddha nature. The painting that is my life is only one scene in the tapestry of existence yet mine mirrors all others in that it is lived.

As I say, every once in a while I think I get a glimpse.