Sunday, April 25, 2010

More Thoughts On Abiding In the Ordinary

Last week, I published a blog about giving our full care and attention to ordinary experiences in our lives, such as the breath. After reading it, one of the regular members of our sangha (meditation group) had to travel to Washington state to bid farewell to her sister-in-law who was in her final days of life after a long illness. Upon her return, she told me that she had been able to have the insight that each breath her sister-in-law took was extraordinarily precious. Within hours, she had passed away.

Her experience demonstrates how dwelling in the ordinariness of the present moment can be extremely powerful. Her ability to "show up" for this event with conscious awareness of all the sadness and wonder, preciousness and ordinariness, loss and gain, is the one reason why introspective practices, such as vipassana meditation, are so valuable to us in our daily life.

Her ability to be present in this special way also honored her sister-in-law's life and death. She did not die in vain, and her last struggle was not meaningless. It was there to offer a priceless teaching that can give insight, hope, and solace to those left behind. The only requirement is to be present as fully as possible in that moment.

Death has been one of my greatest teachers. In the summer of 1988, my mother was diagnosed with metastatic cancer. Within a week, my wife was pregnant with our son, Zach. Mom died in December just before her 68th birthday. Zach was born the following April, and a few months later, my father learned that he had colo-rectal cancer. He died in February, 1990. The birth-death cycle was presenting itself to me very clearly. In Freudian terms, Eros and Thanatos were playing out their eternal struggle for me to witness.

I remember preparing to go visit my dad for Father's Day not long after his diagnosis. It was the first Father's Day for me after Zach had been born, and as I was gathering things together, I suddenly broke down sobbing. When my wife asked what was wrong I blurted out, "I'm just so sad that this might be dad's last Father's Day." There was a pause while we both sat with this, and then my wife said, in a loving way, "We never know. It might be yours, too." 

Sadly, I was right about my dad, and thankfully, I have been around to celebrate twenty-one Father's Days, but still...we never know. That's why we have to be present for as much of life as humanly possible. Not just for the happy times, but also, and perhaps more importantly, for the difficult ones. 

The Acorn: A Treasure Simply Found (in memory of my neighbor, Sam Adamo), by Zachary Tatum-Nolan, age 9:
The acorn, from above
like a snowcapped mountain, 
or a teepee, glistening in the sun.
From beneath, like a green bud,
ready to sprout up under the morning clouds.
A small gift from a tree
left on the ground with many of its brothers.
It may grow into a tree,
or become a decoration on an old man's shelf.

Whatever it may become,
it keeps growing,
and sprouting new life
from within itself.
Its earthen qualities, 
unlike any other found nearby,
are entirely unique from any other acorn.
In its youth, it was hanging from a lone branch
ready to fall and become
a beautiful tree in all its glory,
slowly changing 
from an acorn in the ground,
to a pod with sprouted roots
to a strand of green earth.
A strand peeking its head out from the grass,
and finally,
to an ever-growing tree,
bearing its own acorns,
who in time will repeat the process
and again.

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