“We are always experiencing successive births and deaths. We feel the death of loved ones most acutely—there is something radical about the change in our reality. We are not given options, there is no room for negotiation, and the situation cannot be rationalized away or covered up by pretense. There is a total rupture in our who-I-am-ness, and we are forced to undergo a great and difficult transformation.
In bereavement, we come to appreciate at the deepest, most felt level exactly what it means to die while we are still alive. The Tibetan term bardo, or “intermediate state,” is not just a reference to the afterlife. It also refers more generally to these moments when gaps appear, interrupting the continuity that we otherwise project onto our lives. In American culture, we sometimes refer to this as having the rug pulled out from under us, or feeling ungrounded. These interruptions in our normal sense of certainty are what is being referred to by the term bardo. But to be precise, bardo refers to that state in which we have lost our old reality and it is no longer available to us.
Anyone who has experienced this kind of loss knows what it means to be disrupted, to be entombed between death and rebirth. We often label that a state of shock. In those moments, we lose our grip on the old reality and yet have no sense what a new one might be like. There is no ground, no certainty, and no reference point—there is, in a sense, no rest. [italics mine] This has always been the entry point in our lives for religion, because in that radical state of unreality we need profound reasoning—not just logic, but something beyond logic, something that speaks to us in a timeless, nonconceptual way. Milarepa referred to this disruption as a great marvel, singing from his cave, ‘The precious pot containing my riches becomes my teacher in the very moment it breaks.’”PEMA KHANDRO RINPOCHE, http://www.lionsroar.com/four-points-for-letting-go-bardo/
How much time and energy do you spend trying to get comfortable?
For anyone who has ever tried meditating, it quickly becomes comical. Your scalp itches. You try not to scratch it. Then your nose itches. Then your left knee hurts and you just know you would feel so much better if you shifted it. To some degree, it does not matter whether you shift or scratch or whatever. The point is the noticing and the practice of non-response, learning how not to sub-consciously react to every little thing. Noticing your own suffering without automatically reacting, learning how to have discipline and compassion for yourself, and realizing the universality of your irritation/suffering.
This scenario is woefully inadequate because it doesn’t include those jarring experiences that pull the rug out from under us. Trauma. I am talking about those happenings that are so painful that life simply can never go back to what it was before, the kind of experiences that have a “before” and “after” that forever bifurcate your life, a personal 9/11. These are bardo.
I was going to school in 2008 when Barry first got stage four tonsil cancer. I prepared as best I could for him to die. I continued going to school. He did not die. But the Huntington’s took away his capacity to contribute to the house or our relationship in any meaningful way. Now it’s 2016 and I’m stuck with a house I can’t take care of by myself and a husband that chronically goes downhill. I do everything. I am exhausted. Nothing ever changes. That house is now the tomb of my hopes, dreams, and career.
So I know about shock and I know about being “in-between” stages of life.
What all of this has done for me is to make me rethink absolutely everything. People proceed forward in life based on assumptions they have no way of knowing whether or not they are true. I am no longer capable of that. Sometimes I envy their denial and other times, I think, “If only you knew…”
And I see how much of my life I have tried to get comfortable. If only I had this or that…And now I am pushing 50, no more comfortable than when I was 21. I have scratched, shifted, etc., a gazillion times and it just doesn’t help.
How do you become whole when your life is shattered? Perhaps that is not the goal at all. And can you increase your awareness without having your life rupture in some way? And once you increase your level of consciousness, so what? Then what? Nobody seems to know.
“But in the context of death and birth, shunyata refers to a direct experience of disruption felt at the core of our being, when there is no longer any use manufacturing artificial security.
We’re not talking about giving up our precious human life here, of course; we’re talking about giving up on this subtle game. We hold pictures of our ideal self in an ideal world. We imagine that if we could only manipulate our circumstances or other people enough, then that ideal self could be achieved, and in the meantime, we try to pretend to have it together. It’s the game we play all the time: we keep postponing our acceptance of this moment in order to pursue reality as we think it should be.
When we suffer disruption, we find we just can’t play that game anymore. The bardo teachings are really about recognizing the value of giving up the game, which we play without even giving it a second thought. But when we are severely ill or in hospice, and we have to cede control over our own bodily functions to strangers, holding it all together is not an option.” PEMA KHANDRO RINPOCHE, http://www.lionsroar.com/four-points-for-letting-go-bardo/
This article speaks to me in a way that is rare. It expresses exactly where I am.
I can’t hold it together. I can’t even pretend to hold it together. And I’m done playing the games. Love me, hate me, I just don’t care anymore.
I’m not saying that I accept this moment. Many times I don’t. All I have is the hope that eventually I can start my own life and not be an eternal caretaker anymore. Hope is not Buddhist. Perhaps this is a leftover from my Christian life.
I cannot manipulate anything or anyone. I wonder what it’s like to be a good manipulator, to have faith that one can get what they want from others when needed. Perhaps that kind of security is delusional. But it would still be nice to have.
“If you’re contemplating suicide, my advice is, go ahead and kill yourself. But don’t do it with a rope or a gun or a knife or a handful of pills. Don’t do it by destroying your body. Do it by cutting off your former life and going in a completely new direction. I know that’s not easy. I know it might even seem impossible. If you’d have asked me before that spring day in 1992, I would have told you it was absolutely impossible for me to do any of the things I’ve done since that day. It took a lot of very hard effort before things started to change even a little bit. But when they did, they really did.” Brad Warner, http://www.lionsroar.com/right-way-kill/
I’ve often thought about killing myself. I don’t care who knows that. What I like about this article is that it addresses the real issues: needing a clean slate and letting go of commitments made at a time of greater immaturity.
When Barry passes someday, I am starting over. I’ve been pushing on the Spanish in the meantime and I still have all the responsibilities for two.
We went to the dentist the other day. I thought that the dentist, out of all the doctors, might see something inside Barry’s mouth that might correspond to the lump the physician’s assistant verified. Nope. But him not seeing anything does not imply that the cancer has not spread to Barry’s lungs or sinuses. His view is extremely limited. A genuine diagnosis would require tests Barry is unwilling to undergo.
Regardless: Barry will not live forever and his health goes steadily downhill. I need to be ready.
I have to let go of everything from the past. That is not easy. I wonder if a clean slate is really possible. I still feel like an overwhelmed dufus. How do I give myself a clean slate while keeping the old, rickety (sinking) boat of my life temporarily afloat?
I am reading two books right now: Stephen Levine’s A Year to Live and Ken Wilber’s Integral Meditation. I wonder if these two authors have read each other.
They both talk about the two tracks of growth, emotional and spiritual. We need both. We all know secular, emotionally mature people, people that prove conclusively that one can be good without any belief whatsoever in a transcendent deity. And many of us, including myself, are all too familiar with spiritually advanced people lacking basic emotional maturity (ego-maniacs, sleazy televangelists, child-like monastics, happy-clappy philanderers, etc.).
Wilber says that those of us who spend our time growing into the 7th and 8th level of emotional growth and who pursue an integrated spirituality are the leading edge of evolution.
If I am part of the leading edge of human evolution, humanity is in big trouble.
Perhaps I am just ridiculously cynical. Okay, I know I am. I just have a deep suspicion of trusting emotional states as reflecting anything other than an individual’s personal needs. I’ve had huge spiritual experiences in the past and am now convinced that they were just what I needed at that particular time. That doesn’t make them bad, just individualized and hard to assume that they apply to everyone. One of the more advanced stages is having feelings of profound unity with all things: non-duality, advaita, whatever you want to call it. What makes those feelings any more trustworthy than some of the more Pentecostal, holy-roller, ecstasy on display every Sunday in thousands of churches? Lots of Christians just know that the phony baloney they believe whole-heartedly in is the truth. They know it “in their heart.” I was one of them. Self-deception has no limit.
I’m just glad that various authors are finally agreeing that both are important: growing up and waking up. This is one of those missing pieces humanity has been looking for. As Wilber talks about, every phase includes and transcends the previous phase. Each progressive phase is more whole and comprehensive than its predecessor. People include organs, which include molecules, which include atoms. Nothing is negated. Everything is integrated.
I’ve always been interested in wholeness and healing. What is healing? The integration of the things that have been separated and/or rejected. I’ve learned to not be picky. Healing can come from New-Agey modalities, modern medicine, faith healing, personal experiences, and a gazillion other sources. I want as much healing as possible before I die and I don’t care where it comes from.
Today is very interesting time to live in. We have people from all the different levels fighting each other. And each of them feels they are representing the one and only truth.
The challenge is to accomplish this growth while keeping the boat afloat, so to speak. Meditation has to be scheduled around paying the bills, taking people to the doctor, doing yardwork, etc. People that don’t have to function in the real world can focus on experiencing various states of consciousness, but they may be falsely convinced that they have overcome various emotional issues that they have not actually touched on. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche even had a term for it: spiritual bypassing. It’s when we try to skip normal stages of emotional growth in favor of using spirituality as a way to impress people or ourselves. I know I’ve done it. The big thing I’ve learned over the years is that you don’t get to skip steps! You focus on growth in area A and make progress and go back to area B and find it exactly how you left it. The dishes didn’t do themselves.
Is one lifetime even enough to deal with everything? I know I can make progress, but holy crap, this is hard and time consuming. Use me as a role model at your own risk.
I have spent the past few days really sick. I knew I was in trouble last Wednesday when I felt the chest congestion coming on. A couple days ago, I coughed so hard that it felt like my throat was closing. I had never had that before. Usually, when I get a cold, it is literally all in my head, with endless nose blowing. When it goes to my chest, that’s a whole different level. The coughing gave me such a headache I could not string two coherent thoughts together.
Then, last night, watching TV, I realized I was thinking clearly. Wow.
Never take your ability to think for granted.
I got a taste of serenity and stillness because my mind was operating so slowly that I could feel the empty spaces more clearly. It was beautiful.
I am grateful for the healing of my lungs and nose. I’ve learned to take healing from wherever it comes. Its source is surprising at times.
My body does what my emotions can’t or won’t.
I’ll give an example. About a year and a half ago, I had sciatica. I looked it up online as to its emotional/metaphysical meaning. The answer: hypocrisy. Where was I living different values than I believe in? Church. About six months later, I stopped attending and, voila!, my sciatica was miraculously cured. I do not believe that quitting church is a commonly accepted cure for sciatica, but it worked for me.
What’s going on now? I believe my body is trying to cry. I am getting random eye irritations, causing my eyes to water. I have an occasional dry cough, which makes me blow my nose. And yesterday, I felt a chest cold starting to come on. There is nothing in my lungs to cough up. It’s just exhaustion plus that oppressive chest heaviness that I have been trying to breathe my way through.
Why can’t I simply express my feelings openly like a normal human being? Because Barry is still in denial about his health. We went to our shrink on Tuesday. I told Barry I wanted to spend time with him, like going out to eat while he can still enjoy it. He may have almost admitted he had cancer, but the therapist was treading carefully so as not to traumatize Barry, I think.
When confronted about his cough, he said that the Flomax was causing it. I sat there and thought, “Huh? What? I so have to look that up.” I did some internet research and, no, Flomax does not generally cause coughing as a side effect. This is pure denial.
It reminds me of someone I know. My friend, Lynn, has a roommate, Wendy. Wendy believes that the vitamins she takes in the morning cause her to cough. Lynn is like, “Seriously? It couldn’t possibly be because you smoke?” Denial at its finest. Gotta be the vitamins. Better stop taking the vitamins. Wow.
It is one thing to understand what is going on and something entirely different to have the freedom to live it.
“The range of these between moments [emphasis in original] or intervals can be wide. Times of physical pain often take such a form, as can waiting in line for a driver’s license, and in general waiting for someone else to do something–for example, to sign a deal, to grant you a visa, to die [emphasis all mine, CDH], to fall in love with you, or to pass sentence on you.One of the virtues of meditation is that it allows you to tolerate or even enjoy such between moments, to befriend the material your mind throws to the surface when it is not otherwise occupied by chasing something or trying to improve its condition. There is a koan that encouraged me to examine such moments. The koan: ‘Count the stars in the sky.'” John Tarrant, Bring Me the Rhinoceros, p. 84-85
A friend asked me yesterday if I had emailed the physician’s assistant yet regarding what kinds of tests could be performed on Barry that wouldn’t be painful or invasive that might be helpful in treating his pain when he gets pain. I said no and wondered why. I figured it out today: I don’t want to get into hypothetical situations. What if…..? No. I want to email her when the situation is concrete, as in, “Barry is having a hard time swallowing (or is in pain or whatever). Do you have any suggestions of procedures that would be minimally invasive and minimally painful that might help to more specifically address the situation?”
In a few weeks, Barry will have a few doctor appointments and blood work done. Someone may say something that could change the conversation altogether. I am not pushing anything because that would make it all about me.
And so I wait. I never understood the concept of koans, but Bring Me The Rhinoceros has helped me to see the point. Tarrant talks about a koan choosing you. He also talks about them keeping you company. He says, “Koans unravel the world that we have thought up, and it is this unraveling that makes it possible for a different world to appear.”(p. 173) Being overly logical (not to mention cynical as hell), the point of koans always eluded me. Who gives a ____ about the sound of one hand clapping? But the idea of unraveling the pain story or of a question keeping me company in this time of lonesomeness greatly appeals to me. I’ll take what I can get.