Saturday, April 24, 2010

Fantasy vs Reality

I had the good luck to attend a music program away from home in my youth. My head was full of ideas and dreams about becoming a musician when I grew up and how much better it would be than living on a farm. In fact, I married a farmer and moved a whopping 12 miles from my own family farm onto his family farm.

What a funny cosmic joke.

As I look back over 48 years of life, I am trying to make sense of my youth and early adulthood, as well as, to reclaim parts of myself that I feel were lost along the way. I am playing with notions of what it might be like to live as an artist or musician. Here is one of those games I play.

Reason number 87 on why being a musician might not be as great or wonderful as I imagined it to be:

I don't want to have a heart attack at a Holiday Inn after having dinner at the Howard Johnson's.

David Soyer, founding cellist, Guerneri String Quartet borrowing Claus Adam's quote of the Julliard Quartet, upon retirement in 2001
2-27-10 New York Times obituary B-8

Monday, April 12, 2010

Will Buddhism make you healthy

In a recent UPAYA Zen newsletter, there was an article title connecting meditation with health. There is research that one's meditation practice can have a measurable effect on things like blood pressure, brain waves, etc. But this mind-body thing can only go so far. After all, the inevitability of illness, aging, and death is known as the First Noble Truth in Buddhist teachings.

This topic has been swirling around in my head for a while. I felt that the popular media's focus on making meditation The Answer for anti-aging and stress reduction didn't add up.

Then there was the stray cat incident this week.

A cat had been hanging around the yard for the past two weeks. I didn't pay much attention except to shoo it away from the bird feeder. Then someone noticed that it was really sick and acting odd. A friend picked it up and put it in an old crate where it calmed down. But it was still a very sick kitty with labored breathing and no control over its body. After much consultation, my partner took it to the animal shelter. When the warden picked up the cat, it went ballistic. It scratched her in the process. She got the cat in the cage and announced that: this is what rabies looks like. She also said she gets rabies vaccinations to protect her and made sure no one else had been bitten or scratched.

I couldn't sleep that night. I obsessed over: who might have had contact with the cat, what if they came into contact with the virus, what if a stranger or child played with the cat and didn't know it was sick, could someone I know get rabies, could I. This went on for hours. I looked up information on the internet, rolled up in a fetal position, grew restless and itchy, and tried practicing whatever relaxation methods I could think of. Finally at 4:30 a.m., I grew tired enough to relax and sleep.

It has been years since I had experienced this kind of fearful obsession.

When I was a kid, I can remember reading about a cholera outbreak in Peru killing people. We farmed and I knew hog cholera was deadly to pigs. I was convinced that death was coming to the U.S. I grew fearful, my teeth chattered, and I shivered with chills.

When each of my children was an infant, I re-experienced a sense of vulnerability and panic as I felt overwhelmed by the responsibility of caring for these new lives. Nuclear war, the long-term impact of a chemical culture on their new bodies, and the population explosion around the world with its environmental stressors were all fuel for the fretting. After the birth of my second daughter, I found a practitioner who taught me relaxation techniques and ways of lightening up.

My own meditation practice has strengthened over the years. But it hasn't stopped me from becoming afraid or fearful. It has lessened these episodes, shortened their duration, and been used to help me awaken to the connection to all living beings. Meditation is not an excuse to ignore reality, as much as, an opportunity to drop delusions and see the truth of the matter.

In the early morning internet search, I learned that Americans rarely die from rabies because we immunize our pets and we treat scratched or bitten people to prevent the full-blown onset of rabies. Our brothers and sisters around the world are not so lucky. The World Health Organization estimates that 50,000 people a year die from this untreatable, painful, and frightening disease - mostly in Asian countries.

Buddhism isn't going to stop rabies. But sharing our wealth and resources with others, in much the same way as other benefactors like Bill Gates or Jimmie Carter, who use their power and money to help eradicate or treat illnesses is a universal value of compassion that enhances the lives of all.

I am grateful for a public health focus on preventing rabies on my own country. I just wish this was available to all humans and mammals susceptible to the rabies virus.

My own practice of meditation has awakened me to an expanded awareness of health. Peace to all sentient beings, may they be free from suffering and the roots of suffering, in this life - just as it is.