This week I was supposed to be at a five-day silent meditation retreat led by Pascal Auclair, True North Insight Meditation. I was looking forward to the change of pace/focus that a silent retreat offers. A respite. A chance to self-heal. An opportunity to be device-free and to let the retreat schedule make all decisions. I had signed up way in advance, organized my teaching schedule so that all my classes were covered, and had begun to sort some clothes/props that I might need. I was supposed to meet my ‘ride’ early Monday morning.
But this Monday morning found me unpacking and getting ready to teach my husband’s McGill yoga classes.
On Thursday afternoon before, my husband went into the Glen ER. By Friday afternoon we knew that he had an inflamed gallbladder and were exploring the possibilities: removal or not. By Saturday morning he was in surgery, then recovery and back in his room by mid-afternoon. By noon on Sunday he was home. Four days.
Throughout the process my major activity was ‘in waiting’ but there was never a question in my mind: our lives may have been turned upside-down but it could have been much worse. We were lucky. So, throughout the four days I practiced patience and read a few books I’d been meaning to read. I read the heartfelt best wishes I received on Malcolm’s behalf. I didn’t get a chance to meditate. But I had a lot of time to think and investigate the precariousness of modern life. Of life at any time. Of being human.
Today my meditation is on the inevitability of and the nature of change.
Change is inevitable. We are constantly reminded of this even as we try to deny it. Small changes occur like when our bus is not on time or when an appointment is rescheduled. Or larger changes: the end of a relationship, change in a job, illness. Sometimes change is bracing and energizing; sometimes not. Sometimes it is hard work as we try to adapt to a new way of thinking, or a new way of doing things or a new attitude that life asks us to experiment with. Fodder for growth. Sometimes fuel for bitterness.
In the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths there is an understanding of this idea of change, of everything always changing, as central to Buddhist thought. One of the reasons we find it difficult to deal with change is because we cling to what we want and push away from what we do not want. If we can see these shifts of fortune, the inevitable movement of in and out of our preferred state, with equanimity and acceptance we can put an end to our suffering.
“If you can meet with triumph and disaster,
And treat those two imposters just the same.” (Kipling)
Change is inevitable but how we deal with it is up to us. As we meditate, we work to understand our reactivity and attempt to move towards thoughtful response. As we meditate, we explore our preferences, what we would like to happen which is often very far from the reality… we learn to devalue preference.
Pain is what life deals us; suffering is what we add to it by railing against it. So, do we deal with change by pushing against it and clinging to the known, causing our pain to become suffering? Or do we try to deal gracefully with the change, deal with the pain but not load up on suffering? It’s a choice. Not an easy choice but still a choice. Sinking into or lifting up? Spreading the pain to those around us or keeping it within.
We saw some real emotional and physical pain in the hallways of the ER. We saw a lot of fellow humans adding to their own pain by moving into self-pity and even anger. We also saw a lot of escalation of suffering through reactivity or lack of compassion in others.
And we met Janileth: an amazing, hard-working, compassionate and accessible nurse on the 8th floor at the Royal Victoria wing of the Glen hospital. Even through her busy-ness and 12 hours shifts, she was never reactive and always kind. We were lucky to have her. She did this because of who she is, not through meditation or Buddhist mindfulness. Just being herself. I stand in awe.
Sept 23, 2019