07 June 2013

The Other Smile of the Buddha

I've been laid up for a few days now with an infection that – ok, I won't head into TMI territory – has me moving much more slowly than usual.  After visits to a GP and a specialist, with a follow-up ultrasound, I'm now on two weeks' worth of anitbiotics, orders to do nothing strenuous for a few weeks, to apply an ice pack for another day yet, then to sit in warm baths thereafter.  The specialist says things won't be completely back to normal for 6-8 weeks, but I should be able to be more active after 3.

Fun, huh?!  Good thing I got most of the garden taken care of already, though there's some speculation that's what brought this on.

I have to say that, as much as I prefer health, vigor and activity, I can use situations like this once in a while.  I'm watching issues come up for me that I usually don't see much of or all that often.  Inadequacy is in there, and a good measure of loneliness (though my DVD supplier has overnighted another collection for me to watch during my convalescence, and I'm quite grateful to him for that), not to mention the aches and pains, the yukkiness of fevers and all the rest. These provide a necessary corrective to my over-inflated sense of self, my shows of having it all together, my sense of connectedness and bodily integrity.  I am reminded of the finitude and radical aloneness embodied existence carries with it.

But, and all of a sudden, the lives of those laid up in hospitals and nursing homes and hospice care become more real to me as well.  The loneliness of those truly without family and friends becomes more significant to me.  All at once, I feel a renewed kinship and bond with all of us, old and young, doing our level best to make it through this life.  Every one of us, each in his or her own way, probably has something going on now he or she could use a hand with, a pat on the back for, a sympathetic ear to talk to about or just a shoulder to lean on.

A couple weeks ago I gave a talk here on the Fasting Buddha.  I made the point that, far from representing the wrong way to practice, it strikes me as representing a necessary form of practice along the way.  It's the first step out of the palace and its cushy life and ignorance of the world for the Buddha on his way to awakening.  It can be our way out of the many kinds of "palaces" we build that keep us safe and secure but, for all that, lacking in wisdom and compassion.  We need to do without and get a taste of suffering and disorientation every once in a while to discern just how deep the roots of self run.  Life sometimes gives us enough of those, but if we're finding things going just smashingly well, maybe we need to head straight in under our own power, to probe the depths and so come to see even more clearly that we're not at all what we thought we were.  The Buddha found his limits and then took food again.  I can honestly say I have not yet found mine and that my practice remains incomplete as a result.

Still, even though I'm not all skin and bones I can still smile faintly the smile of the Fasting Buddha.  It's the smile that comes with seeing sickness and setback as welcome teachers and guides.  If I have one wish, it's that I can smile this same smile under even worse conditions, right up to the very end.

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