Seems I am on the Right Planet After All

I have never been fond of the practice of finishing someone else’s sentences. Memory reminds I am guilty of it but Just beginning 1014less so in later years. Of course, it depends on who’s having the conversation and the nature of their relationship.

Certainly, some topics lend themselves to a cooperative effort in constructing a conversation, sentence by sentence. Consider the combined effort of Pema Chödrön and Oprah Winfrey regarding suffering and impermanence:

Chödrön: “If you’re invested in security and certainty—

Winfrey: “Then you’re on the wrong planet.”*

Yes, indeed.

For me, in this sentence of combined effort is the essence of suffering. We invest in what is no longer possible, seeking a security in what once was. Pain, physical or emotional, comes, goes and will come again only to leave once more.

That we all know pain in our lives is part of the human experience but whether or not we suffer is up to us. In suffering, we hang onto a discontent, staying with a storyline because it is what we know, a trusted buffer.

Such buffers may just as easily blind rather than reveal. In these last two months, I have removed many blinders and buffers, once trusted tools, as I perceive physical pain with a perspective more consistent with the planet on which I live.

The needles of acupuncture, intent in balancing my Qi (energy), present my physical pain to me. Like the crescendo of a wave, the pain intensifies only to even out on the shore that awaits all waves.

These past eight weeks my physical pain has been high as my body awakens, attempting to return to a balance it has not known in decades.  The pain does not stay and it does return but each time the pain is its own new wave, and I, its waiting shore.

It is no longer a battle as I allow my body to do what it does best, repair itself. In fighting my pain I was fighting my body, trapped in the drama of battle, masking my pain as suffering.

on the right planet 1014More and more, I am convinced that all physical pain has an emotional component. It is not that the pain is emotionally created but emotion becomes the storyline of physical pain. Humans tend to respond to stories. We suffer if we stay with them rather than feel the pain.

It is the hardest thing I have ever done, and I don’t know where it will lead. I can tell you where I am right now–living a kind of health that I thought no longer possible. Some days feel like a setback but that is an old storyline of a moment past.

Whatever else, traditional Chinese medicine is affording me an opportunity, challenging as it is. It is not a panacea but hard work. This medicine–herbs, acupuncture and whole food—is helping me remove the ring of fear that surrounds my pain. I just do not suffer as I once did.

It feels as if I am completely rebalancing my life, emotionally and physically. Well, I am, at 62 after nearly four decades of disease. It is balance by moment.  I am definitely on the right planet.

Note: My dear readers, posts may continue to be a bit irregular for a while. To my fellow bloggers, I am quite behind in my reading but I am beginning to catch up. Thanks, everyone.

*Conversation on Super Soul Sunday, aired October 19, 2014.


Sitting Within the Winds of Change

These last six months I allowed myself to swirl within the currents of change, believing I could harness these winds or at the very least touch them. Such suffering is the stuff of storms, the perfect one always a possibility the longer one remains in flux.

It is within the eye of the storm–stillness surrounded by gale force winds–where suffering ceases. Rarely, do we reach the calm by choice. Usually, some moment grabs us so fiercely we are forced to sit down and look at what is actually occurring.

My suffering stopped when I realized I could no longer walk as I always have. I was in an airport, two thousand miles from home, when I had to look at me as I really am.

Winds of Change 0214

To my mind, I have had a slight limp for a while—over a year, actually—it meant I walk more slowly but nothing more. Frankly, I no longer noticed my limp but it was significant enough that airport security “expedited” me in more than one airport. I took no notice.

It was on my flight home I realized I would not be able to walk the airport. Wheelchair assistance was a necessity. Twice I had to walk the short distance between plane and terminal to get to a wheelchair. Those steps were the most doubtful I have ever taken.

I am finally losing my mobility was my only thought as fourteen years of medical conversations regarding degenerative disease replayed in an infinite loop. As my mind plotted the possibilities, the perfect storm seemed upon me.

 Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished

(Lao Tzu)

I am still sitting within the eye of this storm, in pain, but no longer suffering. I suffered in immersing myself into one “what if” scenario after another, sinking into dramas that may never occur.

Not Yet Spring 0214

Pain is a guarantee that we are alive; it is a sensation sure and pure. To sit within its purity is to detach from its fury, to allow its torrents to rage and overflow without being swept up in suffering.

Leave your front door and back door open. Allow your thoughts to come and go. Just don’t serve them tea

(Shrunyu Suzuki)

We cannot avoid pain, we can only face it. If we do anything less, we suffer as we avoid reality in favor of living in fear fantasies.

I am able to walk, able to go to the grocery store and even to my beloved Waverly to sit and see rather than walk round park and pond. I am able to drive a standard shift car. I limp but I walk.

Nothing has changed and everything has changed. My world is smaller and larger for to sit within the heart of change is to watch within the calm as scenarios rage without ever knowing the light of reality.

It is when we ignore the moment at hand for what might come next that we are least aware and most stuck. We are trying to touch the wind when all we need to do is sit down within the storm’s calm and let it rage.

On-Again, Off-Again Buddhism

Waiting 0613Dukkha is the first of the Four Noble Truths in Buddhism and is usually translated as suffering, a concept that has always appealed to me about as much as the phrase falling apart, hence my on-again, off-again nearly thirty-year relationship with Buddhism.

Yet, it is to Buddhism that I always return, rather like everywhere I go there I am for as the Buddha said, “I teach only one thing: suffering and the cessation of suffering” (Pema Chödrön, How to Meditate: A Practical Guide).

While dukkha is the word the Buddha is said to have used for suffering, dukkha has more than one level. The first level concerns mostly our physical bodies and ultimately the fact that we die. This kind of suffering involves “outer discomforts” and is considered ordinary.

The second level of suffering pertains more to our stress/anxiety in accepting that nothing stays the same, no matter how hard we might try to make it so. This is the “dukkha produced by change.”
Taking Off 0613

The third level of suffering is often referred to as the “dukkha of conditioned states,” translated as “dissatisfaction” or “never satisfied.” Pema Chödrön explains:

“Dukkha is kept alive by being continually dissatisfied with the reality of the human condition, which means being continually dissatisfied with the fact that pleasant and unpleasant situations are part and parcel of life.”

Over the decades, it has actually become apparent that if I accept each moment as it occurs— the dukkha of conditioned states—the first two levels of suffering fade away, which is not to say accepting impermanence is easy.

Bloom of Peace 0613

For any level of dukkha, meditation helps us strip away our storylines, our drama from any pain or emotion we are feeling. Meditation takes us into the energy of our suffering so whether or not we can do anything about the circumstances, we can decide whether or not to suffer.

If we accept that we fall apart and come together all through our lives, we begin to practice compassion, first with ourselves and later with all those circumstances beyond our control. Because we are human, we are not always compassionate but every time, we have the choice to return to compassion. It is our inner version of war and peace.

In a comment on my initial post on falling apart, Ann E. Michael was kind enough to remind me of these lines from “The Second Coming,” Yeats’ often quoted poem on the aftermath of World War I:

“Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned….”
~William Butler Yeats~

Every time I read Yeats or other World War I poets, I am reminded WWI was the war to end all wars, as if any war ever could. When we are at war with ourselves, we must remember that having compassion with ourselves is where peace begins for everyone.

All three levels of dukkha wend their way through our lives: physical pain, decay, and death claim each one; life will not stay the same for anyone; the constant impermanence of life is the human condition.

The Buddha taught, “I teach only one thing: suffering and the cessation of suffering.” Perhaps I always return to Buddhism because it is neither pessimistic nor optimistic but rather, things fall apart and come together again. Dukkha really is up to me.

In Buddha Nature, No Excuse is Necessary


“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.

So if you see things without
realizing the background of Buddha nature,
everything appears to be in the form of suffering.

But if you understand the background of existence,
you realize that suffering itself is how we live,
and how we extend our life.”

~Shunryu Suzuki

My blog posts are a bit out of sync for this has been a week of resistance, meaning accepting what is has not come easily. Whenever we resist what is, we suffer, for we hold on and tug at a moment, as if to reshape it and the future, as if we could.

That kind of attachment never works, ultimately. The freedom inherent in every moment is not only more palatable but more realistic, for every moment is framed within the harmony of Buddha nature.

When suffering is viewed through Buddha nature, resistance reveals itself as a struggle against what is being extended to us. If we just open up to whatever the moment is offering us, if we just trust the harmony of Buddha nature, we do not escape suffering nor do we push it away for another day. We accept and move through it.

It is tempting to trot out reasons and excuses for why we resist–some of them are really good stories in and of themselves–yet resistance relies on past moments that are beyond changing, which is not to say those moments may not find themselves in a story. Writing extends life to any moment as a new story playing out within the balance of Buddha nature.

Quite often, I lose my balance in life, unlike the old woman whose story I am writing. She knows her story and accepts Buddha nature as basic but she did not always. Writing a story is secondary to living one but like real life, story plays out on a blank canvas, as choices color each scene, ultimately revealing Buddha nature.


I try to remember the old woman when I slip away from Buddha nature for her story shows me what is possible—no matter what—but unlike the old woman, I do not have the benefit of knowing all my story, not yet. Rather, my advantage is the clean slate that every moment presents to me, as a writer and as an old woman, uncertain in both and curious about what happens next for either.

“Do not try to know the truth, for knowledge by the mind is not true knowledge. But you can know what is not true—which is enough to liberate you from the false. The idea that you know what is true is dangerous, for it keeps you imprisoned in the mind. It is when you do not know, that you are free to investigate. And there can be no salvation, without investigation, because non investigation is the main cause of bondage.”

~Nisargadatta Maharaj