We have a family friend with Stage Four cancer, and this morning my mom sent me his latest YouTube video reporting on his progress. I don’t know him terribly well; I wouldn’t say we are close; but throughout the last twenty months I’ve watched his YouTube updates and sent him lovingkindness and generally felt both terribly saddened by his experience and enlightened by it. In addition to Western medicine and chemo, he’s found a Traditional Chinese Medicine healer named Master Lee, and he talks about his work with Master Lee in every video. Master Lee treats him with herbs and acupuncture but also teaches him to do yoga, to meditate, and to be mindful. In this latest video, Jonathan said: “My advice to you is to look into these things.” (Yoga, meditation, breathing, mindfulness.) When he said it, I found myself starting to weep in the coffee shop where I’m sitting, and I thought two strange and disparate thoughts: one, that no one in my family, watching this video, knows that I have been meditating since last November; and two, that my own personal, bodily dukkha these days is not cancer but my journey to try to get pregnant. For a second, they felt on the same plane, though I know they are not. Jonathan will likely not come out of this with his life. But we will all look back on this as the period in his life when he came to truly know himself, when he got as close to enlightenment as one can get. And I wonder how I will look back on this period of disappointment and confusion, whether it will feel worth it, whether it just is.
The other day my friend Steph, who has a new baby, said something I found terribly enlightening. She talked about how the baby had been up for six hours crying and she had to continually remind herself, “This is happening NOW. It is not happening tomorrow or the next day, and there’s no point in worrying about whether it will happen again tomorrow or the next day.” This was enlightening because I realized that the opportunity for mindfulness is continually happening. It is not something we do when we sit on the zafu, though sitting on the zafu is practicing—practice for real life, I guess. I feel when I am not finding the time or space to meditate that I am not practicing, but actually, the opportunity is always there, and that, it seems to me, is where I need to go next: the practice of daily life.
I share these stories because they help me see that not being pregnant NOW does not mean I will not be pregnant another time. And being sad today does not mean I will be sad tomorrow. It’s deceptively simple, really, but a good reminder for someone like me, who tends towards anxiety and fear and not being in the present. It’s not just a simple “this too shall pass.” It’s the realization that the feelings can be sat with and experienced, not passed through or tossed off. And it’s the realization that I can approach the dark moments and the frustrating ones alike with presence and a sense of, I am here now. This is my experience. This is the dark night that must be passed through.