The photo is also an altar scene and today I was made aware that sometimes we need put our problems on the altar, to offer them up, if that makes any sense, to something greater, to the unknown perhaps. As my Zen teacher says, the solutions are not on our timelines. It takes as long as it takes.
So this writing is like a walk with a friend. I don't really know where I am going, there is no direct destination but maybe we'll see some seals or an eagle if we walk down by the ocean.
I am going to talk about my mother again today (oh, oh I see you rolling your eyes) because that's where the Dharma went today and well that's what 100 Days of Dharma is about. It seems that we often have the most to learn from those we are in closest relationship with, those we have the strongest "karmic connection" with and that learning can be fraught with difficulty. Yet it is some of the most important spiritual work we will do in this lifetime, with siblings, partners and parents.
Yesterday my mother phoned me in a panic. "I am loosing my memory I need you to come over and help me." It was an insistent call and I noticed my irritation rise (good I still have my awareness with me). When I went through the details with her what she really needed was for me to pick up some medication that she'd run out of and drop it off for her. My irritation was not so much at the request but at how she currently is trapped in a little loop that goes "all signs point to the fact that I am loosing my memory." I will scan every situation for information that confirms this. I will repeat this to my family at every opportunity. If you've read this blog before you will know I find my mother to be a pretty negative character. Can you feel my long held opinion about my mother here. Am I seeing clearly ? You will also know that I use this as the basis for a lot of spiritual work.
So this morning as I went to pick up the meds I thought to myself. "What can I do to be helpful here?" ( This is the arising of compassion, instead of simply going with the old story of anger. It has taken a long time getting here.) Being angry, no that is not helpful, delivering the meds in a grumbly sort of way, no that's not helpful. I would like to say something to her that is helpful, that might help make her life more pleasant, truly that is my wish. So I contemplated this as I drove. When I arrived with the meds and she made her first comment about her memory I offered a little Dharma that I thought might be helpful. I prefaced it by saying "this is offered in a spirit of wanting to be helpful."
I told her what I knew about how the mind works, that often we humans get an idea in our head like "I'm 93 and I'm not well and I'm loosing my memory." And we use information to corroborate that belief rather than examining the idea and asking "is this true?" She nodded in agreement and we continued our conversation. We talked about dying (which I know is on her mind a lot lately) and I offered the Buddhist belief that we can never know when or how we are going to die. And yes it is scary to think we might suffer in some prolonged way. And that all we really have is the present moment and how important it is to experience it, that fear and regret are signs that we are living either in the future or the past. And that sometimes we do feel afraid and that is okay too.
I don't specifically remember how we got to each place but we had the talk that I have imagined a thousand times before and discussed with my Dharma teacher - but for lack of courage or whatever I just didn't get there. Today I found the courage to tell my mother (without malice) that my experience of her is that she is negative. She said she was aware that I found her negative but didn't see herself in that way at all. I was brave enough to tell her that it feels like she is always mad at me and that what I do never seems like quite enough ( can you see my karma creeping out?) We covered a lot of territory that has separated us for years. I took ownership of my opinions and beliefs about her. It might seem strange when you see the content to hear that this was a totally amicable discussion. No one was angry or upset. I shed a tear or two and perhaps that helped my mother see the impact of her actions. In a family that never expresses their emotions to each other I could tell her I loved her and that was what was really important.
We talked about karma and death and about how I want her to enjoy the time she has left here, that is my wish for her. She has said to me before that she is not scared of dying (which I don't really believe) but that it was being born she should have been afraid of. She repeated this and we could talk about the Buddhist idea that there is suffering in this human life (the first noble truth), that is just the nature of the human experience but that it is our connection to each other that lends richness to life, the sharing. In the end she could say to me "I know I am not an easy person to get along with but I never had anyone to show me love as a child and so I don't know how to show that myself." My response was that maybe that's what she's "hanging on for" as she calls it, so she can learn to do that. As I left she said, I want you to remember that I love you."
So there it is, a hearty vote for the neuroplasticity of the brain (we can change, even at 93) and a hearty vote for training (it has been instrumental in bringing me to this dialogue). I know I have wound around the Dharma today like a road hugging the coastline and I have bared my soul (in way that makes me squirm) but it is a Dharma offering, musings on life, the Dharma and everything (If I were Douglas Adams I would simply have told you at the beginning that the answer is 42). So long and thanks for the fish!