Practice, practice, practice….Buddhists are always talking about practice. What I want to know is: when is the performance?
Thank goodness for the luxury of a whole year to practice a Mindful Dying. With three weeks left to go, the practicing feels more like a dress rehearsal for the performance of a life time. There’s no script. This is improvisation and ad-lib. This is performance art. You see, while all this practicing for dying was going on, life was still going an as well. So my work became practicing skillful responses to every life experience with a mindful intent. Meeting every experience as a final test question: are you responding mindfully or reacting? What is the intention of your response? Practice, practice, practice.
2 Months In
The family is together to celebrate and I want it to be most special, after all, this is the only Christmas of this last year. The good vibrations are palpable, as are the thuds of the proverbial Elephant in the Room. Someone is suffering and no one can talk about it. Outwardly, we recover quickly from the tantrum expressed by throwing the just un-wrapped gift onto the table with a “You can take that back with you because I’m not going to use it”. We patiently plodded from one restaurant to another. At the fifth, before anyone could say “No, not this one”, the rest of us sat down and picked up the menus. This drama of discontent continued. There was no joy or gratefulness in this-ville. Nor was there an appreciation for the effect of this behavior on others by the self-absorbed. It was time to ramp up the Practice. Doctors are always practicing and, I guess, so will I.
And on the 10th Day
the melt down started. Fortunately, I recognized it for what it was. I’ve been known to melt on occasion. The seeds of anger, about things not going my way, the craving for things to go my way began to germinate. This was a slippery slope. I could hold on to these seeds and cultivate them or let them dissolve into Impermanence. It took work, but this is what I’ve been practicing for. Time to focus on the breath, dis-arm the thoughts and feelings, and retreat to my mantra: this may be my last day; this is how I chose to live it.
Me and My Big Mouth
Yes, I had already told the people closest to my heart about my ‘Year To Live’ Experiment and there was no back pedaling now. With the assistance of a wee dram of Sambuca, I had to nurture the patience, compassion, generosity, equanimity. It felt like a Quad-athalon and it was good. This is the only life I have right now and it’s my choice only about how I live it.
Experiencing a fuller awareness of days dissolving, I’ve been rushing to ensure that all is ready. I’m having a LOT of fun. Checking and re-checking my To Do List, I’m checking things off. And as more and more things get checked off I’ve noticed myself looking more inward. For a self-professed hermit wannabe, a died-in-the-wool Introvert, a regular at the ‘Party of One’ (Aneli Rufus: ‘Party of One – the loners’ manifesto), this shouldn’t be unusual. But I’m noticing different stuff.
- this may, or may not, be my last year
- I don’t feel ill or frail or like I’m dying, so is this authentic?
- I have pretty good health, for now. How would it be different if I was frail and bedridden, had a broken, not quite working well body, or depended on a treatment, device, medications, or generosity and care of others to keep me alive and comfortable?
- I am in two places, simultaneously. I think this goes against the Laws of Physics but I’m not so sure anymore. So many things I thought I knew as true are changing. I’m packing to leave, yet, not quite yet.
- thoughts, memories are racing through my mind. They are competing for attention. They’re trying to distract me and I have to practice some more. I have to practice what I taught a 92 yr old and a 94 yr old who were, each, anticipating their last breath. This ‘racing of thoughts and memories’ is a phenomenon each had described to me. For one, it was just annoying; her heart rate ranged from 45 bpm to 68 bpm. For the other it was distressing. Her heart rate, exacerbated by chronic anemia, would race at 110+. She could, neither, relax nor sleep well with all these thoughts racing. Start to focus on the breath; notice it going in and out; slowly, add a ‘thank you’ with each breath. Little by little notice the pictures of the thoughts going through your mind; just notice them and say ‘thank you’. Her family called 2 days later to tell me “I don’t know what when on last time you were here, but her heart rate hasn’t gone above 72 bpm since, and she is sleeping well.” Is this really so hard? Get outta’ here.
- I don’t know what my dying will be like. I don’t know what the portal of death looks like. I do know that I really, really hope to be able to be mindful of the experience when it happens. I also hope to keep you posted…. guess I’d better find a proxy to post – just in case.