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 Well of Compassion is Full of Emotion

When we get to the core of any emotion, even anger, we discover a wakeful energy free of drama, unattached to any situation. We have come to the well of compassion into which all emotion empties eventually. No longer do we thirst for we drink what we once found undrinkable.

It is a story we relive all our lives.

Immersed in our own drama, we exhibit behaviors to hide the heart of our anger. It is only when we strip away the story we have told ourselves—perhaps for years—that we discover the core of our anger. Once revealed, we empty ourselves, slaking our thirst with a cup of compassion.
Hawk 3

Not surprisingly, I am thinking of a story about the Buddha and an angry, young man. As the Buddha was walking through a village, he was approached by a young man who screamed at him. He taunted the Buddha, calling him stupid and a fake. The Buddha, the young man declared, had no right to teach anybody anything.

The Buddha quietly considered the young man before asking him a question. “’Tell me, if you buy a gift for someone, and that person does not take it, to whom does the gift belong?’”*

The question was not what the young man expected, and he readily replied, “’It would belong to me, because I bought the gift.’*

“The Buddha smiled and said, `That is correct. And it is exactly the same with your anger. If you become angry with me and I do not get insulted, then the anger falls back on you. You are then the only one who becomes unhappy, not me. All you have done is hurt yourself.’”*

That the Buddha did not react to the young man is anticipated yet in not accepting one gift, the Buddha offered another, the compassionate response: “If you want to stop hurting yourself, you must get rid of your anger and become loving instead. When you hate others, you yourself become unhappy. But when you love others, everyone is happy.”*

The story ends with the young man giving up his anger and deciding to follow the Buddha. Stories are illustrative, sometimes metaphorical, but always they enrich our lives with what is possible. Compassion is always an option, which is not to say it is an easy response. Anger confines, love expands—our choice.

Anger is not easily eschewed either, whether it comes from within or whether it is offered to us. Like love, anger has survived and evolved with us. Chagdud Tulku Rinpoche observed: “Meeting anger with anger is like following a lunatic who jumps off a cliff. Do I have to go likewise? While it’s crazy for him to act the way he does, it’s even crazier for me to do the same.”**

In the 21st century, opportunities abound as daily we crisscross our planet and the paths of others. Each meeting is an opportunity to drink a cup of compassion or to go crazy with the craziness.

*Buddha and the Angry Young Man

**Reacting With Anger