A few weeks ago, I wondered what it would be like to let go of everything. Perhaps that was a very bad thought to have. Last week, I started paying for my husband’s (and my own, because it is one and the same) grave marker. It is more than a little creepy to know that, regardless of where in the world I may travel, there will always be a grave waiting for me in Michigan.
Last night, I listened to a woman talk about her extremely depressed daughter and almost-as-depressed soon-to-be ex-son-in-law. She was distraught. She has empathy for everything and so it is all quite distressing to her. I told her about my grave payments and my own issues with impermanence. I tried to reassure her with the upside of impermanence, that her family drama was not endless in nature. It too will pass. I don’t know if she felt any better. Perhaps that is not the goal.
Letting go is so easy to talk about. Just try living it. Theory is one thing; making payments on your own grave marker is quite another.
Struggling with impermanence
I am really emotionally struggling right now. Yesterday, the cemetery called and wanted me to come in to verify some information for audit purposes. Okay. I also needed to get started the next phase of direct withdrawal from my checking account in my effort to pre-arrange things for Barry’s eventual demise. I started it last September so I wouldn’t be stuck paying for everything all at once. I did not know it would have this effect on me.
There’s no good way to do this. I am now on a two-year payment plan, paying $300/month. My first thought was, “That’s a lot of money per month. And, still, I might not pay it off before he dies.” My second thought was, “Omigod. What if he actually lives that long? I’d likely have to put him in a nursing home by that point.” I am stuck not knowing which is worse, him dying soon or him suffering for who-knows-how-long.
The last time I felt like this was when it emotionally hit me that he was going to get Huntington’s and that I needed to start working immediately. I had an outlet: I started working. When Barry got cancer, I was already enrolled in business school. I finished my MBA. Now, I have nowhere to go and nothing to lean on. I don’t want to try working with him going downhill and I cannot even imagine going for a DBA. So I am stuck at home, trying not to spend money. I have no outlet.
It’s so funny how the inevitable is so painful. That’s why we avoid it at all costs. In reality, the only thing worse than doing it this way is to have to do it while emotionally overwhelmed, dealing with grieving family members, etc. It’s not like, if I wait a week, any of this stuff will be discounted. The earlier I deal with this stuff, the better. But none of this makes me hate it any less.
I chose the grave marker and decorations, which perfectly express the two of us (a little bulldog above his name facing a little cat above mine). It is so cute. Still haaaating it.
Sailing on the Titanic
Posted on 20 April 2013 by Buddhism Now , http://buddhismnow.com/2013/04/20/timeless-and-time/#more-5822
“We can just give all our attention to the time-bound thing, the conditioned realm. This is what materialism does. It’s always sorting out, rearranging the deckchairs on the Titanic, trying to create perfect societies out of ideas, perfect socialist systems—communist systems, democratic societies, common markets, economic markets. We can create ideal societies with our minds, based on the highest principles, the highest morality, and the very best of the best. But in terms of experience, life is never like that; it’s like this—changing….
Observing the nature of suffering is the first noble truth; the second noble truth is the cause of suffering; we realise the cessation of suffering; and that is the realisation of the unconditioned reality that we can turn to. We can notice and awaken to the deathless reality which is unlimited, timeless, immeasurable, desireless. The Buddha said not to reject the conditioned realm, not to say, ‘I’ll have nothing more to do with it. I’m only going to pay attention to the unconditioned.’ The point is, we can’t actually do that because conditions—the body and the karma we have—are so strong. How do we relate the conditioned with the unconditioned, therefore? We reflect on the way it is by paying attention to it—it’s like this.”
We all sail on the Titanic. It’s just that some of us realize it and others don’t. Why doesn’t everyone understand that? Sometimes, it is the illusion of youth. I remember being a teenager. Teens have zero sense of time. If they feel good, they think they will feel good forever. I was suicidal and could not imagine things ever improving. The frontal lobe of us humans does not fully mature until the person is in his/her early twenties. Youthful stupidity can be fairly easily forgiven.
The problems I have run into in the religious world have usually revolved around long-term issues. I look down the road and reject short-term solutions because they generally create more long-term problems. The last church I went to was filled with elderly people and their view only seemed to go as far as the next six months. When you have a twenty-year mortgage, such thinking is pure folly. I have even read of how some Buddhist communities are having problems due to their aging congregations. Some of the people actually have to sit on chairs to meditate (due to increasing inflexibility of their knees)! Oh, gasp! (My own knees will probably never do a full lotus position.) This is new to American Buddhist communities. They could take a few pointers from American churches that have wheelchair ramps and other elderly-friendly accessories.
It is obvious that some ships will sink before others—unless we live in serious denial. But all ships will sink eventually. The wood rots, the plumbing rusts, etc. Our bodies are not capable of living indefinitely. Whether one believes in reincarnation or resurrection, the point is the same: we get new bodies. No one wants to keep their current model.
The smartest organizations take care to keep their flexibility. I know one New-Agey church that worships in a Korean Presbyterian facility. They have maintained services by not having to maintain a physical structure and all that goes with it (insurance, taxes, maintenance, etc.). This is huge, given Michigan’s crappy economy. By knowing what their mission is and having their priorities clear, they can adjust the how to maintain the what and why. The road to failure is paved with illusions of permanence, well-intentioned or not.
“One should never look at anything distractedly for no reason. With concentrated vision always look about with a resolute intent.” Awareness — If I manage to restrain my mind, by Acharya, originally by Shantideva, Posted on 5 April 2014 by Buddhism Now
That is a ridiculously difficult command, intentionally so, I imagine.
But I like it. It takes some of the randomness out of life. I look around and see so many people just out of control, acting and speaking without thinking first. It is so easy to respond in kind to stupidity and insanity, but having unconscious conversations with unaware people can lead nowhere good.
Anything beyond a polite “please” or “thank you” requires conscious intention. Part 2 of the article says, “Whenever the desire to move or say something occurs, first examine the mind and only act when it is firm and still. Should attachment or a wish to express anger be present in your thoughts, then do not budge or say a word: remain like a piece of wood.” Random thoughts may come, but they are not to be acted upon.
The best motivation for behaving carefully I have found is when life ups the consequences of subconscious behavior. For example, gas prices here just went back up to $3.99/gal. I have no choice about some driving, but that which I do have some control over keeps getting scaled back. I just got an oil change with a few other services to keep my car going. It hurt financially, but I intentionally take good care of my car because Barry and I are so dependent upon it. To not do so would be disrespectful of Barry and myself. Someday, I will have the freedom to decide things only for myself. Until then, how I deliberately care for myself and Barry determines both our qualities of life. Randomness in my actions creates reverberations that are not harmonious.
I’ve been staying home as much as possible, in an effort to spend as little on gas as possible. There are limits to how thrifty I can be, however. Barry and I go to Biggby’s on a close-to-daily basis. Also, he and I have appointments and meetings (for him). Due to the Huntington’s, he does not respond well to change. What this amounts to is me trying to create a predictable environment so as to not stress him out. That is extremely artificial and tiresome.
Staying home encourages me to get rid of things to streamline my life. This is very deliberate simplification. I am very conscious of creating space for the next phase of my life. Everywhere I turn, “making space” or “creating an opening” seem to be the theme. Watching Dr. Phil, a guest was having communication problems with her daughter. In reality, the mother never allowed the daughter to finish one sentence and even insinuated that Dr. Phil was delusional. The audience roared with laughter as he suggested that perhaps someone qualified could take over the discussion. The mother lived in a fantasy world and any professional that disagreed with her opinion was obviously incompetent in her mind. Her mind had no space for disagreement. Healing requires space for completing unfinished transactions.
Space also has other functions. As someone easily overwhelmed, I work at perpetually de-cluttering my house. It was pure survival when I went to business school. When I was working, going to school, and dealing with Barry’s cancer, I did not have the emotional wherewithal to hunt for things or deal with too much visual stimulation. Getting rid of stuff was both cathartic and mandatory. Also, during school, I saw how the simplest idea usually wins. Think Apple, with all of their intuitive design features. Think of sitting in the middle of an empty room versus sitting in a crowded room.
Simple translates into flexible. In the empty room, you can face any direction with equal ease and respond instantly. I am determined to simplify my life so I have maximum options when Barry passes and also so I don’t lose my mind in the meantime.
The world we live in demands flexibility. The organizations that have simplified have the best possibility of survival. A refusal to change or simplify can be a death warrant. An inflexible company, for example, is the institutional equivalent of Barry. Barry at least has an excuse, an actual neurological disease. I have sympathy for him because he has no options. He is a good guy doing the best he can. The diagnosis is terminal and I have understood that for years. An organization that has to live in an artificially controlled environment to survive is of no use to anyone. Taking care of a hothouse plant requires maintaining the hothouse, regulating the temperature, humidity, etc. Eventually, pretending that the plant is strong feels ridiculous. If the plant can’t survive outside, we let it die. We might water it outdoors, but we won’t coddle it. If it lives, fine; if not, oh well.
Creating space opens up reality to the possibility of healing. People need to be heard, not just placated or pacified. When a person has just had an emotional catharsis, suddenly they might have clarity. Every organization they belong to will benefit from their new found clarity and inspiration. Flexibility blossoms and new solutions are made obvious, if the organization can tolerate the fresh air. He who can open a space for healing to occur, wins.
I have been at loose ends lately. This is not good. I have needed something strong and internal to direct me, some guiding value. There are many things I feel strongly about that I am not in a position to pursue, time-wise due to my commitment to Barry. There is no one to take up my slack. I am in the position of taking up other people’s.
Life always finds a way to make things urgent. Gas prices around here are now in the $3.90s. People around here are acting like this is perfectly normal. I am unconvinced. I talked to my friend in Maryland. The highest price she found on her phone app was $3.57. If Michigan was having a hard time keeping people before, it’s in for a serious rough patch now. My new commitment is to not go anywhere unless necessary or invited, to not drive to simply drive or get out of the house. I have plenty of food. If I wasn’t spending much before, you ain’t seen nothing yet. I haven’t been spending much lately, anyhow, but now it feels imperative to be a cheap ass. A few months ago, I saw my favorite brand of bacon for $6.49/lb. Partly due to that, I have been eating less meat. (I’ve been trying to gradually reduce my meat consumption, anyhow.) For that kind of price, it needs to be organic and/or gold-plated. Life has been motivating me to make better choices, to find more sustainable alternatives.
What I have to offer to the world is who and what I am. Skills can be acquired. I have the utmost confidence in my ability to learn, so that’s not a huge issue. I have gradually been becoming more orderly. Perhaps that’s what this summer is about for me.
What I want to be is a safe space for people to heal. I have always been interested in “sacred spaces,” with their implications of silence and peace. However, over the past few years, I have had enough sacred space to last a while. Sacred space, for me, now has the insinuations of isolation and condemnation. I used to be interested in “holiness,” which hinted at simplicity and wholeness. Now, I want no part of a cold, judgmental silence that requires me and others to leave who we are at the door. If people don’t feel safe, they weirdly work out their issues on the job or even in random encounters. I am learning that trauma is simply normal, crisis-situation reactions that have not been allowed to complete themselves. Completion provides the wholeness (holiness) that heals.
This is the yin part of me, the space that makes things useful, taking over. This is the source of wisdom. I still have to work on the whole yang thing, the motivation that propels me out into the world.