There are three types of practitioners: practitioners of small capacity, who die without fear; practitioners of middle capacity, who die without regrets; and practitioners of the utmost capacity, who die happily.
For Three Years
Since I began my ‘One Year To Live Experiment’ the path before me has been distinct. For the better part of these three years I remained faithful to the practice of living each day as though it might be the last of this life.
The fact that I ate more turkey during this Thanksgiving than all the animal food I’d eaten in the past year should have been clue enough for me to notice that I was drifting off the path. I knew it was reckless but, hey, “eat, drink and be merry”, yes?
The sudden appearance of a fleshy roll around my middle got my attention. A bit off balance, are we?
There’s nothing outside of me preventing my doing what is important to me. A reminder.
Feeling forcibly cloistered and believing that fewer hours of day light equaled shorter days. The slippery slope.
Being fooled by the antics of a wondering, free-floating mind and calling it thinking. Danger.
The Year Of The Monkey
The Chinese New Year isn’t until February 7th but the many commemorative shirts have been advertised on the studio wall for over a month already. I placed my order for a 3/4 sleeve V-neck to remind me of the clever, unpredictable, monkey-nature of the mind. Left to its own devices, ready to play, obliviously wreaking havoc along the way. A Cat in the Hat with Thing One and Thing Two doing their thing on the playing field of the mind.
A mind running amok is what some refer to as “monkey mind”. Mindfulness is awareness of the thoughts running through the mind and knowing that they’re only ‘thoughts’ passing through. Being mindful is not being distracted by them. Being mindful is recognizing that you’re way off road before you find yourself on The Magical Mystery Tour looking for The Road To Shamballa. I became complacent and unaware.
The monkeys were in charge. I had let the cat out of the bag with nary a “meow” of resistance from my lips. The noise of their romp squashed the ‘thank you’ thoughts, more typical of the mindful mind, to barely a squeak.
There are a lot of excuses for how the practice may slip below #1 priority, but there are no good reasons. It happens. Recognizing what is going on and re-establishing authority over the thoughts is a sweet, sweet, humbling experience cloaked in Gratefulness for practicing mindfulness.
In this instance I had a most relevant to Mindful Dying experience and I wasn’t sharing it – with anyone. It took me my usual ‘while’ to figure out that this had created an inner conflict of conscience. I kept telling myself it was not the right time to write about this in my on-line journal. But, one of the promises I made about MindfulDying.com was that it would be a faithful representation of this journey. Having had former personal journals subpoenaed, the decision was made to, now, share them freely. But I wasn’t sharing.
Internal conflict is a ripe environment for the monkey-mind to thrive. Thoughts and emotions ping pong and pin-ball in our minds and hinder our ability to even identify what’s going on, until we realize the need to breathe. At last, back to the breath; at last.
There’s another piece to the conflict. Where I come from, even hinting at having had a peak experience, beyond a very limited circle of trusted advisors, is akin to lunacy. Who, in their right mind, would even hint at the possibility? There are people who have written about their experiences: the Carmelite mystics St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of The Cross, The Buddha. Is it worth the risk to even appear to assume an affiliation?
Traditionally, people who confess to a peak experience have been considered suspect, to say the least. Also suffering from mental illness, other maladies, intoxication, drug induced hallucinations, and last but not least, ‘extreme’. It’s no wonder I’m wondering whether it’s wise to go here. But the risk of not going here is living chaotically with the conflict. Chaos follows continued conflict. I’m choosing option #1.
I said what I meant and I meant what I said, trying to be faithful, most of the time. So here goes.
Going With The Flow
Guess what? It was during a Tai Chi set that the big twinge arrived. Maybe a spasm just under the right lower rib. Occasional twinges and spasms spread laterally, under the diaphragm. Sometimes it felt warm and growing. Not a pain but a presence behooving of my extra attention. After three weeks of observing, I decide, if it’s still around in another month I’d make an appointment to see you-know-who.
This wasn’t procrastination it was practicality. The presence was going to stay or go. I knew, from nursing, that it was not immediately life-limiting. It was not something likely to precipitate an emergency. Besides, the next month was already booked with other things. And…hey, an opportune time to keep on practicing living each day as though this was the last year of this life, with a bit more skin in the game.
Two months and two weeks elapsed before Dr. Grim had her hands on me. In response to my question, she gravely nodded. Blood is taken and a sonogram scheduled for two days hence. Sonograms captivate me and I’m looking forward to watching this one. And so I watch… everything looks fine. The technician doesn’t say and I don’t ask but I do my best to read her demeanor then go home and wait.
And This Was Where The Fun Began
Four full days before the results. I have to admit, the prior 2 1/2 months were delicious, food for the soul, savory and intense all while riding the Tao, most of the time. Four days left to go before I go on to something else, one way or another. In the mean time stay alert, watch the thoughts, know the feelings, back to the breath and back to the garden.
Turning over compost and watching the thoughts. Many of the same thoughts of the prior months passing through. Maybe I still have time to draft a more artistic Advance Directives; how the body might decline and close down, people, places, things; all peaceful. They’re easy to watch pass; they’re regular companions along the way. And then…’when do I tell my honey?’ blown away by the thought that took precedence: This might be what I’ve been practicing for, the last great adventure.
And a smile emerged. An outward sign of an inner experience. No more dress rehearsals. No more practice, time to walk the talk and all is well.
Abraham Maslow identified the following characteristics of a peak experience (from Wikipedia).
- the feeling of being one whole and harmonious self, free of dissociation or inner conflict
- the feeling of using all capacities and capabilities at their highest potential, or being “fully functioning”
- functioning effortlessly and easily without strain or struggle
- being without inhibition, fear, doubt, and self-criticism
- spontaneity, expressiveness, and naturally flowing behavior that is not constrained by conformity
- complete mindfulness of the present moment without influence of past or expected future experiences
Now you see the risk in hinting that one may have had a peak experience? Sounds pretentious, grandiose, exclusive. And then there’s the aftermath of inferences, and expectations, about ‘highest potential’. Where’s the up side?
These characteristics may, or may not, have been part of my experience. What I remember, is leaning on the pitch fork as the smile emerged; comfort and confidence that all is well and all will be well; belonging exactly where I was. Noticing the thought ‘Yes, this may be what I’ve been practicing for and I’m grateful beyond words for having a practice to practice.’
The Rest Of The Story
Blood work was all normal. Sonogram normal. The presence is still with me. Dr. Grim somewhat stymied. The conflict about whether or not to tell the story is resolved; regrets need not apply. The monkeys are resting and I get to rest in the experience for a bit, and keep moving through adventures. After all, I didn’t ask for success or understanding, I asked for wonder.
That’s the story and I’m sticking with it. 🙂
P.S. “Three Types of Practitioners” credit to Tanya Piven from her piece Like Roaring Earth”. Tricycle Mag. 8/24/15. Always a welcome on our FaceBook Page for articles for may find of interest.