October has been a month of ups and downs: Mercury in retrograde affected all sorts of communication and perhaps contributed to the logy feeling I carried with me to the hospital this week. Prior to this week, I’d always been completely present and engaged during my visits, and I always left with an uplifted spirit and a full heart. This week I didn’t have this experience. Maybe it was me, maybe it was the patients, maybe it was the mood of the universe; or all three combined. Next week will surely be different: maybe better, maybe not. Maybe the murderous rage I’d got in touch with a couple weeks ago was still rumbling around in my gut and threw me off balance. This is what I wrote in my journal about that:
In battle with M on Sunday and Monday. My murderous, yes, murderous rage surfaced. His badgering, old habit of cyclical, obsessive focus on why, what happened, and on & on & on & on. I would not make a good POW. I’d give up the country’s secrets in a minute. Maybe this inner murderer is why I’m writing murder mysteries. Do not kill precept. I realize if pushed far enough I am capable of killing. I think we probably all are. Sometimes I feel like I’m not a very good Buddhist because I like to watch violent movies and read and write about murder and people being bad. Some of it I shade my eyes to, but the harm we do to each other every day, even if it’s just a thought re another’s behavior and how it affects us, is astounding. I think about killing the Ted Cruz’s of the world. If there is such a thing as evil there are a lot of evil people cloaked in fine suits.
And the ugly feeling that got triggered by M’s behavior had me wanting to do him harm just to shut him up. It’s scary and shameful and I don’t want to share the fact that I had this very real, visceral urge. But there it is. I wrote more about this is a recent blog.
The day after the discord/fight/awfulness with M, I was emotionally hung over and my spirits were low when I headed to the hospital. I was hoping N was still there so I could visit her first and be uplifted by her incredible spirit. I’d seen her two weeks in a row; first time she said “I won’t be good company.” I sat with her anyway and she revealed that music and scriptures helped keep her going, but she’d forgotten her bible. Before I left I said I’d put her in my prayers. She opened her eyes wide, looked straight at me for the first time and said “Oh, I’d like that.” When I brought her a new testament later in the day she was grateful and much more alert, had me inscribe it to her. The following week she was so happy to see me, had told everyone about the bible. I wanted to hug her, or maybe have her hug me, but she was hooked up to some machine that was draining fluid from her chest. She wasn’t there the morning I sought her out for inspiration. I had to rely on my own inner light that had been made brighter by her memory.
I did get a hug that day from a man in the Psych ward that I’d visited every week so far. He wasn’t toting his bible as usual, was in very good spirits and didn’t need/want to talk more. I appreciated the hug. I then had three visits with patients in that ward with whom I had lengthy discussions about Buddhism. I am encountering so many patients who identify themselves as Buddhist leaning to varying degrees and are grateful to meet a Buddhist. It makes me feel useful.
I met two patients that day who had had surgery that made them unable to speak, so they communicated by writing. Both interactions were lively. Both patients had lots of people praying for them, both acknowledged the power of that, and both were grateful to be alive and breathing. They helped right-size my own issues.
A few days later, during the right livelihood dyad at the retreat, from the same deep place in my body, from the same “me” who wanted to kill her husband, from who the hell knows where, came an overwhelming emotion, accompanied by the idea of becoming a Baptist preacher (not sure which came first, the feeling or the words). Perhaps the bible readings over the past month, the clear evidence of the power of prayer, and the patients I’d met who were comforted by scripture, the words of my childhood, unearthed this emotion. I also wrote about this in a recent blog.
I’ve resisted a lot of the Contemplative Care course work this month: the assigned readings, meeting with my buddy, setting up a mentoring session.
First the readings: I skimmed through some of the beginning of Street Zen as Issan hit his bottom. I’ve heard so many stories like his, I knew the terrain and wanted to get to the upside. I was also reminded of my very first favorite monk who died of AIDS related causes just after he talked me into doing kessei in 1991 when I’d been fired from my job, and before kessei started. His death was as devastating as my own father’s; maybe even more so because I was sober for his.
I’m resisting Jon Kabat-Zinn’s guided meditation CD because I can’t skim through the parts I already know, and to spend three hours with him right now feels above and beyond, but I will get to him eventually. I’m thinking it’s something M and I can do together, since his meditation practice continues to grow and it could be a bonding experience. Also, maybe I can pick up a few tips to incorporate in my own teaching. Weirdly, I feel like I’d rather be reading the bible, which I am less familiar with. I think this would help me even more with Christian patients. I know enough about Buddhism to be helpful there.
I met once with my buddy this month even though I didn’t want to. I didn’t think I could learn anything new. Ugh, I hate this about myself. Especially since I learn something from every encounter I have. Even though I know this, that old habit keeps popping up. So I initiated the contact and pushed to have a meeting. She wanted to have a phone session. I thought it best that we try to meet in person, so we found some time that worked for both of us. We both went out of our way, which felt good. The meeting was fine and I was able to share about a recent experience re the second precept of not stealing in relationship to others. It was good to air that, have a witness to my not-so-perfect side.
I caught my mind straying while with a coaching client recently. A couple of times during our session I completely missed a few things she said while my mind was off thinking about something else. This so rarely happens. I consider myself a pretty good listener. But that day I was not. I stole that time from her. I paid it back immediately by extending the session ten minutes.
The most heartbreaking and yet wonderful encounter this month was with S, a man whose face, neck and head were being eaten away by cancer. His mouth and chin were the only areas yet untouched. His partner was with him and there was clearly a lot of love between them. He was a very sweet man who confessed to having no religious faith. We eventually got around to his interest in Zen Buddhism. His face lit up when I told him I was a Buddhist. We spoke for a long time. We closed the door and I taught them both how to sit, be still and just breathe. It felt like a very sacred time. I recommended some books. I hope it helps them negotiate their challenging path.
It’s been a rough couple of weeks. Mercury retrograde ended Nov 11. Praise Jesus!