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Posts Tagged ‘Atisha’

English: Thumbnail portrait of Atisha based on...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Your body is fragile and vulnerable.

The Sixth of the Nine Contemplations of Atisha. . . your body is fragile and vulnerable.

Think about how easily we can be overcome by something microscopic like a germ cell.  We don’t need a tiger to kill us, a few cells can do the trick.

It’s been over 90 in the Midwest for a couple of weeks and it’s been several days with temperatures above 100, without the heat index and on the news last night we heard that two elderly people in the area had died because they had stayed in their homes without air conditioning.  So even something that cannot be seen under a microscope can take these very lives of ours.

Our own bodies can turn on us, as when we have an autoimmune disease.

We grow up in this country to believe that we are rugged individualists, that we have boundless freedom and are invincible when we get good grades, get a job, marry, and raise the perfect family.  And most people can probably name at least a handful of people for whom this narrative isn’t the case.

Your body is fragile and vulnerable.

Our teeth decay.

Our muscles grow weak.

Our cells multiple, sometimes out of control and cancer grows.

Sometimes our bones break.

Our sleep gets disturbed.

We “catch” the flu.

Our muscles spasm and our arches fall.

It doesn’t take much water or ice on the floor to bring us to our knees or drop us on our heads.

Think about your mindful breathing. . .

Don’t you take for granted that as you focus on your in-breath that an out-breath will follow and then another in breath?

Would you if you had asthma?

Your body is fragile and vulnerable.

And what about our minds?  We often forget that there is interconnection between our minds and bodies and think of them as separate entities.

It doesn’t take a lot for our minds to “betray” us too.

We have afflictive emotions.  We have perceptions, sensations, feelings, emotions, and thoughts.

We can have hallucinations, dreams, and forgetfulness.

We take little pills to change our thinking and feelings.

Some of us will be born and develop depression, schizophrenia, autism, or dementia and although we see the effects of these diseases, we can only conjecture what really happens, despite our collective belief in levels of serotonin, problems with synapses, etc.

Your body is fragile and vulnerable.

Illness, like death, is an edge for us.  It is a mindfulness bell.  We usually don’t appreciate good health until we have lost it much in the same way that our love grows fonder and deeper when the object of our love has died.

A sore tooth or an aching back remind me of how fragile my physical life is.

I appreciate the rest of the teeth I have while I am sitting with the discomfort of a root canal.

When I have a migraine, I am painfully aware of the week I have had without the pain, sensitivity, nausea, etc. but that does not mean that I have been mindful to the lack of pain during that week.

So, can we use our physical presence and bodies in our meditations?

Definitely!

We cultivate awareness with meditations like body scans and progressive muscle relaxations.

Or focus on attention by practicing Yoga Nidra.

We allow our awareness to the sensation of our abdomen rise and fall with our inhalation and exhalation.

I remember a story from my first philosophy teacher. . . she was the one who introduced me to Buddhism and meditation.  I remember her telling me that her friend, during meditation, knew that there was something wrong with her kidneys and was able to get hydrated and get to the doctor before it was too late.

Our bodies may be weak, vulnerable, and fragile and we will ultimately die from something.  Not even the Buddha himself was able to avoid it.

But our cultivated aware and attention can be powerful as we practice meditation.

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Atisha with Twenty-eight of the Eighty-four Ma...

Atisha with Twenty-eight of the Eighty-four Mahasiddhas. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Your life span, like that of all living beings, is not fixed

Your life span, like that of all living beings, is not fixed

I had a client that had major complications after a surgery that was supposed to be “routine”.  Multiple systems shutting down and getting restored which shut down other systems, etc.  It was like a negative feedback loop for a while.

We were sure that she was going to die.  I was totally convinced.  I was the hospice expert, I knew these things.

Well, not really.

I just am more okay with dying taken place when it may be the ultimate healing experience for that person.

But with today’s medical technology, we can sometimes sustain someone well beyond what nature may have had in mind and give them a chance they would have never had before now.

That, however, is not my experience, but it does happen.

My “for sure” was no match for crazy (or what I thought was crazy) medical and scientific intervention.  And she lived on.

Your life span, like that of all living beings, is not fixed

Yet, I remember someone I knew telling me that his mother had gone into the hospital for something acute and the family was told that she was riddled with cancer.

There was an emergency that sent her to the hospital.

She was diagnosed.

The family was trying to make sense out of what was happening that night; trying to wrap their minds around it.

She died the next morning… not from the cancer and not from the acute crisis.

As one of the other Contemplations states, we do not have control over when and how our death will ultimately come.

How many times have you heard, “She was the picture of health”?  That was the case with my mentor who died.  Running 5 miles every morning, yoga, healthy eating, great relationships, ideal jobs for her, etc.

Or how many times have you heard, “He smoked cigars since the age of 12 and his mom fed him lard” and he died when he was 97?

We have no fixed time or fixed amount of breaths that we will take.

We do not know if it will be right now, tonight, tomorrow, or in ten years.

And yet, we live like it we have been granted this fragile life forever.

Everyone we have ever known to die, whether a beloved grandfather or a teen idol, has not lived forever and has had that unexpected time come.

Why do we think that we are exempt and will be the one person to make it out of life alive?

And how many of us take so much for granted because deep down inside, we really believe that we’ll be that one?

How long will you suffer with what is before you create the life you want before it’s too late?

How many times will you walk away angry and not say I love you before you are left with the guilt of having not done that very thing?

I ask these questions, not just of you, but of myself?

Will I learn this time?

Will I be more present, more proactive, more loving, more compassionate, etc?

Your life span, (and my life span) like that of all living beings, is not fixed.

With that knowledge, can we learn to embrace it, in a lived, total way, and create the life that we want because we became active agents during the moments we do have here on earth?

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Death will come whether you are prepared or not.

Take heed.

Death waits for no one.

There is no time to say, wait, I need to add more lipstick and fix my hair.

There is not usually time for you to call that long-lost family member or that 7th grade Math teacher, or the one that got away, .,.

We don’t know when death will come for us.

All we know is that death will come.

Right now, I know a family that is going to through a painful death process.  Family feuds were not dealt with, people’s needs to control not put aside, estranged relationships strained even more.

Everyone is so isolated, from each other, from friends, from the person who is dying.

And I actually think that the person who is dying may be the person who is blessed because of not having an awareness of this consensual reality anymore.  That person may or may not be spared some of the pain.  My guess, is that some of it is being processed during those last breaths.

In my years working with hospice, I’ve seen amazing things happen — some truly healing and magic occurred and usually it was in those moments when we got out of our own way, let go of the ego we are so bound to, and just allowed ourselves to be free and to be love.

What extraordinary pain we put ourselves through.  Living can be hard enough.  And the process of dying can be painful.  Why would we want to add more to it?

Death comes whether you are prepared or not.

So I ask myself, as I sit on the cushion. . .

what’s left?

What’s still undone?

What do I still need to accomplish?

Have a touched lives?

Does my work matter?

Have I made sure that my parents know how much I love them?

Have I taken enough time to laugh with friends?

What regrets are there, if any, and do I know how to rectify them?

Am I wasting time in a life I don’t feel like I have control over?  Don’t want to live?

Are there relationships that don’t contribute to my greatest good?

Are there relationships where I don’t feel like I can continue to be loving and compassionate?

Death will come whether I am prepared or not.

I have no control over the where, the how, the why, the when. . .

It’s so easy to be taken off guard by the little things like going out to a car that won’t start. . .

Imagine what it must be like to “wake up” and realize that life is over. . . that whatever you have believed or not believed is where you find yourself.

We can sometimes live too cautiously, spending time planning, living in a bubble, not taking chances, etc.

Does a life of safety make up for a life unloved because of fear or control we have given away?

If I am tired and have things to do, I will often ask myself, “If I don’t talk to my parents (or someone else) tonight, and I woke up to a call in the middle of the night, would I be okay with that?”

Sometimes the answer is that I need to care for myself so I can be compassionately present when I am interacting with the other.

Other times, I know deep down inside that yes, I am tired but it is more important to reach out and to hold the other person close to my heart, because of the fragility of our existence.

Death will come whether I am prepared or not.

So if I don’t know the when, where, how, why, etc and death won’t wait, don’t I want to live so that when it does come, I can breathe in and relax into the uncoiling of my self or spirit from this physical world?

Don’t I want to know that I lived to recognize that which I gave birth for and that lovingkindness and compassion, or at least holding the intention of those essential ways of being, is what guided my life?

This body will no longer serve me one day.  Nor will my wealth, acquired knowledge, or possessions.

But the manner in which I rest my head, and follow my breath, and focus single-pointedly on the present will be all that I have.

Can I strive daily to make that my practice?

Death will come whether you or I are prepared or not.

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大昭寺

大昭寺 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“I am the owner of my actions,

heir to my actions, born of my actions,

related through my actions, and live dependent

on my actions.  Whatever i do,

for good or for ill,

to that will I fall heir.”

~~ Larry Rosenberg, Living in the Light of Death:  On the Art of Being Truly Alive

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Portrait of Atisha

Image via Wikipedia

I find myself at an interesting point in life… This week, is my birthday and I am farther and farther from my 30s (and the age that my brother was when he died). . . and dreams I have had in the past are gone. . .

I’m finishing my PhD and several years of hard work will be coming to an end… I find that overall, life is okay right now, being on the other side of many years of pain issues…

I also find myself getting really in touch with a few things. . . my health struggles over the past year (and hopefully being on the other side of them), my parents’ age and health,   where I am in my life and where I want to go… and I find myself facing impermanence and the desire to be more here and now.

Part of what I wanted to do with my research for school was to understand how using some meditation from the Buddhist tradition would help one in their grief process.  There are several contemplative practices that one can do.

I thought I was going to find people who do them and interview them.  As I have sought out participants, I have been told over and over again that very few people do these meditations.  But. . . wait. . .  the little voice in me says. . .  here is a wonderful practice and we aren’t using it?

I want to learn to be more present.  I want to be a more compassionate companion to those who are grieving and dying. . . the meditations seem to make sense as a path, a practice. . .

In addition, I’m going to spend 5 days in April at a retreat on Buddhism and Dying.

I decided today that every week, I will focus some of my meditation practice to contemplating death.

For the next nine weeks, (which will take me to a week after the retreat), I will be meditating on and blogging about the Nine Contemplations of Atisha.

To read more about the Nine Contemplations of Atisha, click here.  If you want to delve deeper for yourself, you can check out Larry Rosenberg’s work or Joan Halifax’s work.

I’m excited to have some direction.  I practice metta meditation, tonglen, basic mindfulness, and some visualizations.  And at the end of April, I will do the 8 weeks of Mindfulness with Mark Williams’ program.  But for right now, I am going to spend time with Atisha’s contemplative insights about the natural of reality.  I have no idea what to expect but, I’m ready for it.

If you have experience working with the Nine Contemplations or if you do any of the other dying practices, please share over the weeks to come.

I wish you well.  I wish you happiness.  I wish you safety.  I wish you peace on your journey.

~~Metta.

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