Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Comfort in the Face of Change

Dave with our niece Hailey and nephew Evan:
Spending more time than expected in the Bay Area
has meant more fun with loved ones.

Dave reminded me that we’ve been living without a house for three months. The idea was to live a traveling life: a combination of visiting friends, staying in Airbnb lodgings, leasing places, and house-sitting.

We started with a few days in L.A. followed by a little over a month in Australia. In July, we went to Boston and Cape Cod. The month of August was supposed to look like this:

Swimming in turquoise waters, dalliance-ing with dolphins, snorkeling with turtles and technicolor fish, eating papaya with lime on the lanai, reading and writing in the warm evening, and hiking across moonscape lava.

But this is the thing about life:

You gotta be flexible. Because everything changes. Sometimes change is deceptively slow. And sometimes it happens in the blink of an eye.

For instance:  You make plans to spend a month and a half in Hawaii after your Cape Cod adventure. One day on the Cape, you go for a swim. The water is delectably refreshing in the hot, humid day. You swim out far, alone. You think about how you’re now swimming in the Atlantic, and in a week you’ll be swimming in the Pacific. You think about how being cradled in the sea is like nestling into the belly of the world. Far off, your friends play Frisbee on the sand, the plastic disc like a little green bead tossed against the blue sky.

That night, your body is at peace because of its day-long immersion in sun and sea, because of all that buoyant movement with gravity suspended. Not to mention all that fresh lobster and wine and laughter.

In spite of how great I felt, in spite of the timelessness of the summer days, the next morning did not bring what I expected: more of the same. Instead, that night, something in my brain reached a tipping point, and I woke at 6 a.m. having a seizure. And instead of Hawaii, August brought us back to California for my medical treatment.

I can’t say how many times I’ve thought about that day of dreamy swimming in Cape Cod. If I’d had that seizure 12 hours earlier, I would have drowned. It wouldn’t have been the worst way to go, transitioning while doing something I love so much. Preferable to dying of a heart attack in rush hour traffic.

In fact, when I was having the seizure and thought I was dying, incredibly something that passed through my mind was this: It’s okay if I’m going because I’ve been living my authentic life.

But apparently it wan’t my time. As a result, I have a new depth of appreciation for the preciousness of now.

I cried the other morning when Dave was holding me. Then I realized why. What I was thinking was: I don’t want to lose his body or have him lose mine.

Those Buddhists are right-on when they say human suffering stems from attachment, from desiring permanence in the face of the natural course of change, from wanting things to be different than they are. There I was, PRE-suffering: imagining inevitable change and living it too soon, when I didn’t need to!

I reminded myself that the past and the future are just thoughts. Where it’s all at is NOW. So I gently guided my mind back to the sacred moment, back to my senses, feeling Dave’s arms around me, noting our heart beats. I sensed the tenderness and tenacity of the healing in my skull that just weeks before had been cut open by a surgeon. I reminded myself to thank the surgeon, to embrace the white light of her expertise, to appreciate that I was here, now, experiencing another lovely moment of life.
We humans have amazing minds. We can make ourselves miserable. We can make ourselves joyous. Just acknowledging that I can make myself feel bad is good. It softens suffering a bit. Perhaps that’s why I’ve loved reading literature all these years: because looking at the human condition reminds me that yes, this is the way it is.

I can look at my feelings from another vantage point. Sadness and clinging don’t own me. They can pass by like clouds in the sky. And in fact, they are kind of interesting to watch because, like everything, they change. I don’t need to deny them or impulsively act out against them. I can just relax and breathe and gently think a better-feeling thought like: Sadness is kind of sweet. It says I’m a loving human being. I dig that humanity is capable of love. This life sure has a lot of beauty in it. And the next thing I know, I’m letting go of what I was clinging to. Then maybe I’m smiling. And maybe I’m feeling more and more ready to take on the day.

Living without a house intensifies the letting-go experience. When I’m living in “my” house, I can be seduced by a feeling of permanence. I like that feeling of comfort. But what I’m discovering is I can create comfort wherever I am, even in the midst of embracing impermanence. With no house, it’s very clear to me that wherever we are, we aren’t there forever. 

A house doesn’t bring comfort. We do. By coming back to this moment, again and again.

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