Friday, January 29, 2010

I should be meditating. I've been thinking about it all morning.

I got out of bed, got dressed, made the bed, brushed my teeth, and combed my hair. I walked past my meditation cushion knowing that I was skipping over this part of my sort-of-daily ritual. Then I walked out of the room with my mental list of things to do today.

Or more realistically, I was arranging things to do today to avoid doing the other things I felt I should be doing but didn't want to do.

That is how it works for me sometimes. I am attracted to the things that feel novel or are not as difficult as the things I feel I must do.

When I have a good harp lesson, I feel like I can practice my heart out. I love playing the harp. But when things get garbled, or I get nervous and fumble a lot during a lesson, the embarrassment and frustration linger and I don't practice as long or as focused the next week.

For a long time, my meditation has been about just sitting. I learned this from a Zen teacher. She made it sound so perfect - that if sitting is the only thing we do in meditation practice, that is enough. Showing up to sit is not just a great start, but essential. And we keep starting over all our lives in various forms with what she called beginners mind. But I get tangled up in my meditation when I believe it should be something more.

So, many thoughts and feelings take over. I want it to bring about peace - in myself and in the world. I want to experience a more compassionate way of being. And yet, I don't trust it. Unlike the river running freely, my thoughts are more like a log jam backing up everything else. All these thoughts and feelings create more knotted messes.

What gets me through my difficulty is thinking in terms of Wabi Sabi - a beauty so stunning with its imperfection that it pierces the heart. It is available to see in the world everywhere, everyday. I'm getting better at seeing it in others and in the natural world.

Perhaps now, I will try to see Wabi Sabi within me.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Just breathe

In today's group meditation, a prayer was offered to begin the group. After listening to a week of turmoil about Haiti's major earthquake and learning that another quake struck last night, it was a humble beginning to our session.

However, sitting in the midst of the world's turmoil seemed unbearable. I felt wet around the eyes as I tried to settle down.

Yesterday I visited my maternal grandmother and her caregiver. My grandmother stroked in the early 2000's and has received near total care since then. The only thing she can do voluntarily is say a few words (no, yes, baby) and eat with assistance. She is moved from her bed into a wheelchair and back with a Hoyer lift. She has had several live-in carers through an agency. But her current carer, Flower, has been such a gift. (I am not using her real name to protect her privacy.)

Flower is in her 60's and is from Haiti. She has family living all over. Her own 90+ year old mother lives in Haiti with another family member. I kept wanting to call her last week, but her French-Haitian dialect is difficult to understand in English. Telephone calls are usually very brief and to the point. I needed to see her in person.

Yesterday was the day. With CNN on in the background, she told me that her mother was okay. Her family in the house was okay. The neighbors lost everything and there was a stench in the air. It was implied that bodies were decomposing in those buildings. A cousin who had tried for years to get pregnant lost her month old infant, their only child. It was unclear if it was directly related to the quake or not.

As she was talking, my grandmother started choking. She quickly stopped breathing in or out. No sound. Eyes shut tight. Body rigid. Then a few flutters from her eyelids. My aunt who stops by after work most days was there. She started beating on her back, as if this would be helpful. In what felt like minutes, but was most likely 15-20 seconds max, grandmother started a funny, throaty, snoring, snorting-type sound. Her eyes remained closed.

Air was beginning to move slightly in and out. Grandmother's breathing did not clear up immediately. She had no great coughing spell that a healthier, younger person might have had. She rattled and snored through her raspy breathing for another 15 minutes or so before settling into a quiet breathing pattern. She was returned to bed exhausted.

During this episode, my mind raced back to the time I accidentally attended her uncle's death. He had broken his hip and had been put in a nursing home. He was in pain. There would be no setting his hip.

This is when I learned that his long-standing leg pains before the fracture were likely related to serving in WWI. He had gotten behind enemy lines and had to fake his death. He was bayoneted in the leg to see if he responded. His fake death must have been convincing enough. His breathing must have been extremely shallow.

The last time Grandmother visited him, she said his neck was stiff and that meant he was going to die. She refused to go back and see him.

I decided to stay with him the next afternoon. While I left to make a call, an aide came to feed him. As I was walking in, I saw him dutifully take in the food and then cough. He had inhaled the food. He was choking to death. The aide quickly got a nurse. There was nothing to be done.

Growing up on a farm, I saw lots of death. But no one is prepared for the death of loved one. It is always accidental, the wrong time, a sudden loss.

When my grandmother stopped breathing, a deep irrational place in my mind was saying, "Oh please, do not die while I am here. I don't want to feel responsible for this. Why do people die when I visit?" A child's magical reasoning and sense of responsibility had surfaced in the face of helplessness.

Another thought occured almost simultaneously, "This is no way to live. Perhaps she will finally find peace. How long must she suffer?"

My own response was to clear my throat during the visit and whenever I thought about it. Even as I write this, I find myself clearing my throat and aware of sinus drainage, thickening spit, and imaginary lung congestion.

After meditation, members of the group wanted to talk about politics and history and power. I got sucked in. There are big Buddhist ideas like impermanence and equanimity we could have discussed. But mostly, I just wanted us to appreciate breathing.