Monday, August 23, 2010

The Hard Path to Happiness

Another Lesson From Zen Hospice, About the Power of  Seeing and Embracing Suffering.

Sitting with Doug*, a new resident on the ward, I got a confirmation of what it does to consciously be with all of one's experience, including the yucky stuff. It was hard to understand Doug. The tube in his throat helped him breathe, but had the unfortunate effect of muddling his words. Still, we managed. He asked me to turn on the TV. Doug's gaze was intense. I looked at the bare environment around his bed. Not a single personal object in sight. Doug settled on the Bay Area Bargains channel. The topic was home insulation and its benefit for large homes. The talk host, a bouncy middle age woman, took us inside the various rooms of a magnificent mansion, where she excitedly discussed the topic at hand with an expert. Doug seemed unfazed. I, on the other hand, couldn't help but react to the contrast between this place, where Doug and I sat, and that other world that was presented to us.  I wondered what Doug felt. 

Next to us, with only a thin curtain to separate us, we could hear Diana*, my favorite aide, giving Doug's neighbor his bath. Ears mobilized, and nose also. The smell of dirty diaper taken off, and body being cleansed grabbed me at the nostrils. Sitting with much unpleasantness, I struggled with staying in my spot. "You let me know, whether you want me to stay or leave." I asked Doug. He motioned for me to stay. This is just like sitting meditation, I thought. The trick is in surviving the aversion, without acting on it. And so, I kept on sitting with Doug, until it was time for Diana to take over, and give him his bath. 

Several more times throughout my shift, I encountered the unpleasantness, and I saw it for what it was. The opportunity, each time, to go against the grain of deeply ingrained habit, that causes me to want to flee what does not feel good. A day at Zen Hospice is like regular life on steroids. Same suffering, only magnified a thousand times. Same aversion to suffering, only so strong it cannot be ignored. And the obvious conclusion, that the only way out of the suffering is not to try to escape its reality, for that only makes it worse. No, the only way out, is to go deep into the suffering, and the natural aversive response to it, and to breathe with it, to feel it completely, and to embrace it. No cope out. That would defy the whole purpose. 

And now, the punch line. Out of the ward, I walked, heart filled with much lightness and joy. Feeling so completely whole.

* Not real name, to protect privacy.

12 comments:

  1. karuna and mudita! Beautiful post. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Thank you, Lori, for getting this!

    This is most important experience I feel. The rest is just talk . . .

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wow, Marguerite. You really captured the essence of the hospice experience. Metta to you!

    ReplyDelete
  4. beautiful ~ thanks for sharing this. This often works with physical pain too, the tensing up against it and shallow breathing creates an increase in the pain, adding to its intensity.. breathing into the pain and embracing it for what it is, opens the lungs and lets the energy flow.. releasing the tension, creating space and easing the pain.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you for this, Marguerite. I too often struggle on the delicate edge of aversion to suffering and your account is reassuring and hopeful of what joy can lie on the other side.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Thank you Kitty! The hospice caregiving experience tends to be overly romanticized. The reality is very different . . . Mindfulness, loving kindness, and peer to peer support are the transformative agents that make all the difference between hell and heaven on the ward.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I agree with you, GreenWhisper! Power of mind to release the mind from its self-imposed suffering, as right now, while typing and sitting with flareup of chronic pain in right lower back :)

    ReplyDelete
  8. TDharma15, I am glad this is helpful. Mindfulness is such a powerful gift. Very laser-like in its ability to cut through unnecessary suffering. Of course, there are a few necessary conditions, such as faith, right understanding, right effort, patience, right concentration, and right mindfulness . . . (did I forget anything here? :))

    ReplyDelete
  9. And this happening everywhere in the world, sometimes with family sometimes not...I was walking in NY, and a car stopped in the middle of the street, and the EMT was there...the driver had a stroke. Your post and that points me to the importance of enjoying every moment and to be present. I should not any spend time trying to be "right" in every instance...like today when a friend I saw made fun of my disability. I laughed with him.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZeFTuW6stE8&feature=related

    ReplyDelete
  10. Oh! thank you. What a beautiful way of being, you laughing with your friend . . . And, yes not a moment to be wasted. So much to learn from the difficult ones, and so much to enjoy in the easy ones.

    Much metta to you. I need to visit your blog again. It's been long overdue :)

    ReplyDelete
  11. I was thinking it might be interesting to volunteer someday for something. Maybe I should start with something a little less intense than hospice however. I am sure you are like an angel to this man. Have you ever discussed your work there with someone like Gil to get his impressions?

    ReplyDelete
  12. I wish you well, Pete, in your search for a fulfilling volunteer activity. Hospice work, although intense, is actually a great complement to one's practice. I am being served, as much if not more than I am serving.

    Of course, this is all very personal. The good news is there are so many opportunities out there!

    Deep bow to you.

    PS- Gil knows about my hospice work

    ReplyDelete

Loading...