Posted in Zen Buddhism

Lessons from Cancer

I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason – unless that reason is Karma. I also don’t believe that situations are put in our path in order to teach us something. I do believe, however, that we can learn from the situations that arise in our lives if we choose to.

It’s coming up on two years since my breast cancer diagnosis. I’m currently disease-free and almost done with my reconstruction. I’ve shifted gears from identifying as a cancer patient to a cancer survivor.

And yet, I’ve noticed that I still use cancer as an excuse whenever it suits me. True, I still have some residual fatigue. True, I still have some memory loss from chemo. But these issues don’t have to keep me from living my life to the fullest, unless I let them.

So, in an effort to turn the page on that chapter of my life, here are some lessons I’ve learned along the way:

  1. I learned how to meditate during cancer treatment. No matter how awful I felt, I found time to get it done. Now that I’m well, I have a much more robust meditation practice that I did before.
  2. I learned who my true friends are, or at least who was emotionally mature enough to stand by me in the face of fear. And I made new friends.
  3. I learned that I needed to take better care of my body, and I started learning how to do that. It remains an ongoing process.
  4. I learned how to ask for help without embarrassment and how to accept it without guilt.
  5. I learned, on the deepest possible level, that life is fleeting.
  6. I learned how not to over-commit myself.
  7. I learned how to say “no” to things I really don’t want to do, and to say it graciously and without remorse.
  8. I learned how to politely avoid people who drain me or give off negative energy.
  9. I learned that it’s not enough to have priorities unless I also live them.
  10. I learned what being grateful really means.

May all beings benefit.

~ Jabo

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Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

Impermanence

The Radiant Buddha said:

Regard this fleeting world like this:
Like stars fading and vanishing at dawn,
like bubbles on a fast moving stream,
like morning dewdrops evaporating on blades of grass,
like a candle flickering in a strong wind,
echoes, mirages and phantoms, hallucinations,
and like a dream.

— the Eight Similes of Illusion,
from The Prajna Paramita Sutras

I copied this passage into a journal entry dated 12-2-02. It gives me a soft, gentle ache in my heart to read. Because I understand impermanence. 

No, really. I do.

You see, I’m a breast cancer survivor. I had Stage III B on a scale where the next step up is nearly always fatal. So I’ve had an up-close-and-personal view of death. Of impermanence. Of life. And gratitude.

I’m so grateful to the Buddha for reminding us that it is all just an illusion. It helps keep me from getting too attached to this form. May it help you, too.

~Jabo

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Posted in Zen Buddhism

Never say anything that doesn’t improve on silence.

― Richard Yates, A Good School

What is Right Speech?  Refraining from…frivolous speech.

― The Buddha

I have nothing to add.

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

The Stream of Power and Wisdom

Place yourself into the middle of the stream of power and wisdom which flows into your life.  Then, without effort, you are impelled to truth and to perfect contentment.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

I love Emerson’s suggestion.  There are many ways to place oneself into the stream.  Yesterday, I did so while painting the inside of a house.  Most days, I do so through meditation.  And I am deeply content.  Even while waiting for insurance authorization of my radiation treatments.  Even while bone weary from painting.  When I remember that I’m in the stream, as a Zen Buddhist monk once said to me, “I don’t get disturbed.”

Posted in Zen Buddhism

Our Enemies are Unskillful Means

I wrote about unskillful means last month: greed, hatred, and ignorance.  The Big Three.  The root of all of our troubles. I think they even underlie attachment.  We are attached to our likes (greed), our dislikes (hatred), and our views (ignorance).

I am reminded of this today, reading the words of Brother Trung Hai, Dharma Teacher at Bat Nha Monastery, where 130 monks and 230 nuns and aspirants have just been violently evicted by communist Vietnamese forces:

We do not blame anyone. We have no anger toward anyone. We know that our enemies are not people; they are greed, hatred and ignorance.

Thanks, Brother.  I will keep your wisdom in mind as I chant, pray, and write my elected officials.

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

The Solo Householder Retreat

What I learned:

  • Get family out of the house.
  • Get pets out of the house, or practice fluid acceptance as your schedule changes.
  • Turn off the phone.  Let people know beforehand that you won’t be available.
  • Turn off the computer.
  • Turn off the TV.
  • Plan meals.  Do the shopping ahead of time.  Try to “fix” rather than “cook.”  Remember to be mindful when preparing food.  Don’t try anything new for the first time; stick to what you know is good for you.
  • Do chores before the start of the retreat.  Get the laundry and shopping done for the week to come so it’s not a distraction.  You’ll have enough to think about.  Trust me.
  • Don’t bother to check the mail.
  • Stay indoors or in enclosed outdoor areas as much as possible.  Avoid people.
  • If you do encounter others, like neighbors, let your practice be compassion.  They probably won’t understand noble silence, and you won’t want to be rude.
  • Make a schedule long before you start.  Then use it as a guideline, not a rulebook.
  • Forgive yourself when you get off track.  Then get back on track.
  • Experiment.  Now is a good opportunity to try varying your meditation practice or sitting position.
  • Be realistic.  You will need time to transition from one activity to another.
  • Consider whether you will exercise.  Exercising may increase your energy more than you wish, but you may feel off balance if you skip a regular session.  Listen to your inner wisdom.  You can always change your mind.
  • You may fall asleep.  If that happens, engage in nap practice!
  • Allow an hour or two after the end of the retreat before planning interactions with others.  Give yourself time to ease back up to speed.

May all beings benefit!

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

“Going” on Retreat

I completed my at-home retreat.  This was my first “solo” retreat – though with all the animals at home, I never felt alone.  I didn’t end up seeing my friend on Saturday, but I did have to dog sit for a different friend who is recovering from major surgery.  Her dog doesn’t like one of my dogs, and major drama ensued.  While my retreat experience wasn’t fully restful, I got to be of service to both dog and owner, and that was good practice, too.

Because numbers are how Americans are taught to keep score:

  • Zazen periods: 14
  • Demons fed: 4
  • Prajna Paramita practice periods: 4
  • Chanting periods not part of other practices: 3
  • Metta meditation periods: 4
  • Neighbors I had polite conversation with while walking the dogs: 4
  • Wandering dogs I returned to their owners: 1
  • Number of 200mg ibuprofen gelcaps consumed: 9

I learned a lot about how my mind works and about the nature of mind.  I managed to avoid the major temptations of sleeping too much and turning on the computer.  I will do this sort of “householder retreat” again when the opportunity presents itself.

Posted in Tibetan Buddhism, Zen Buddhism

Roll-Your-Own Retreat Schedule

My beloved husband is going out of town next weekend.  So, I’ve decided to take Sylvia Boorstein’s advice and “don’t just do something, sit there!”  Below is my tentative schedule, based on Hubby leaving around 7 Friday and returning sometime after 2 on Sunday.

Of course, all schedules are subject to change!  I will probably be seeing a friend on Saturday afternoon; I’ll just chop out the activities I had scheduled for that window of time.

My plan is a mix of Zen and Tibetan practices.  They actually blend together better than one might think.  Tributaries of the same stream.

I’ll try to report back after I see how it actually works!

FRIDAY

7:00 PM           Open Formal Retreat.  Prajna Paramita Practice (Sunset is at 7:40)

8:00 PM           Demon Feeding Practice

8:30 PM           Walk Dogs, Feed Dogs, Cat, Bun

9:00 PM           Evening Bell Chant

9:30 PM           Lights Out

SATURDAY

5:30 AM          Wake Up, Walk Dogs

6:00 AM          Prajna Paramita Practice (Sunrise is at 6:15)

7:00 AM          Demon Feeding Practice

7:30 AM          Breakfast, Walk Dogs

8:30 AM          Zazen – Bowing, Chanting, 3-4 Periods with 10 minutes of walking in between

11:30 AM        Relax (Yoga, Shower, Read, Etc.)

12:30 PM         Lunch, Walk Dogs

1:30 PM           Relax (Read, Etc.)

2:00 PM           Zazen – 5 Periods with 10 minutes of walking in between

5:10 PM           Relax (Yoga, Read, Etc.), Walk Dogs

6:00 PM           Dinner

7:00 PM           Prajna Paramita Practice (Sunset is at 7:39)

8:00 PM           Demon Feeding Practice

8:30 PM           Walk Dogs, Feed Dogs, Cat, Bun

9:00 PM           Evening Bell Chant

9:30 PM           Lights Out

SUNDAY

5:30 AM          Wake Up, Walk Dogs

6:00 AM          Prajna Paramita Practice (Sunrise is at 6:15)

7:00 AM          Demon Feeding Practice

7:30 AM          Breakfast, Walk Dogs

8:30 AM          Zazen – Bowing, Chanting, 3-4 Periods with 10 minutes of walking in between

11:30 AM        Relax (Yoga, Shower, Read, Etc.)

12:30 PM         Lunch, Walk Dogs

1:30 PM           Zazen

2:00 PM           Close Formal Retreat

2:01 PM           Nap.  🙂  KATZ!

Posted in Zen Buddhism

Learning from Illness

I’m home sick today. This rarely happens to me, especially when I love my job as I do this one. I fret that my students aren’t getting what they’re supposed to, even though I know they’re in good hands. I feel guilty that I’m not doing anything productive, even though I’m too sick to work. So what’s to be learned from all this?

First, dwelling on how crappy I feel only makes it worse. There’s a certain amount of “suffering” inherent in being ill. Thinking endlessly about how I bad I feel adds an additional layer of suffering that is purely optional. I can just sit with the bodily sensations without judging them – without saying “I feel terrible!” to myself – or I can do things like type this blog post. Either way, I’m not feeding the suffering.

Second, delegating my class to someone else isn’t neglecting it. I emailed in the lesson plan for today and followed up with two phone calls. Now I can relax and let the people whose job it is to take over, take over. They are professionals. I am not indispensable, regardless of what my ego is telling me.

Third, focusing all my energy on getting well IS productive. I didn’t realize this until one of my dear Buddhist friends emailed me recently that she was home sick and how lazy and unproductive it made her feel. I wrote her back to say that sometimes, healing our bodies (or minds, for that matter) is our job for the day. It was only when I wrote that to her, that I realized the same is true for me. Today is my opportunity to “practice what I preach.” I will focus on getting well. If I accomplish nothing else today, my progress toward health will be accomplishment enough.