Dharma Gleanings


cynthia rich

April 13, 2014—April 17, 2014

April 13, 2014
Recently Joe and I attended a sangha retreat where a retreatant spoke with anguish about climate change and how the sangha was not doing anything. We both had a similar sense that his cry was not coming from a wholesome place.

After half a century of activism, which I can celebrate in many ways—because in many ways it was wholesome work—what I’ve come to recognize in myself and others is that if there is urgency (urgency, of course, is different from moving quickly), and/or if there is a stabbing pain in the heart or stomach for what we see as “victim” (in this case, the earth) or rage at the perpetrator (oil companies, administrations), our need for action is coming from ego, that is, from our child’s suffering.

If the focus of the need to act comes less from pain and anger and instead from a wider open-hearted compassion, a profound and steady caring, it can be trusted as worthy of the bodhisattva’s vow. Che Guevara, whether he acted on it or not, famously said, ”A true revolutionary must be motivated by deep feelings of love.” And that indeed is how we can tell the activism of the ego from the activism of the heart.

April 15, 2014
For some reason, I’ve always remembered Jo, on a backcountry hike through wildflowers, wondering why it is that we marvel so at that burst of natural beauty, and yet if we see the same scene for days on end, we take it for granted. Maybe I remember because I felt I didn’t have a good answer. Now I do.

I’ve come up with critiques of what I call the Wow! Factor (April 22, 2012 and June 2, 2012), and the Wow! Factor was definitely in play on that spring hike when Jo sensed that there was something wrong. It’s true that (April 22, 2012) to say Wow! about something beautiful or amazing is to separate it from ourselves, setting up an instant division that doesn’t allow for interbeing. Now it feels clear that with our Wow! we are declaring a sharp and dramatic division between the beautiful thing and the rest of the world. A division that diminishes and trivializes all that is not seen as worthy of our Wow!

To feel that something is extraordinary means that it exists outside of the “ordinary.” More and more and more I’ve come to see how beautiful and amazing everything in this universe is—the oil floating on a puddle, my feces in the toilet, a wasp, the new moon. When we privilege the desert flowers above brown mottled leaves or the body of a worm, we are of course going to come down from the high of the false glamor we’ve imposed on it. When we begin to feel, on the fourth day, that the desert flowers are nothing special, that is because they were never special, they were always just one more priceless gem on the necklace of a marvelous universe.

April 17, 2014
I’ve been thinking about death and dying, this time sparked by media revelations of “how doctors choose to die”—that is, without calling on the medical interventions that often do harm, sometimes torture, and often do little or no good. I beefed up instructions to my power of attorneys, adding to the list of procedures I absolutely do not wish—starting with CPR and general anesthesia (since I’m in my eighties). I realize, of course, that we have little if any control of these eventualities—simply the process itself has felt useful and freeing.

When I shared my statements with Tessa, she nodded and said something about “quality of life.” I said nothing though I realized my recoil from that phrase and later wondered why it felt slightly offensive to me.

“Quality of life” suggests a fussy, spoiled American consumer, who has what Bettina calls the white middle-class American sense of entitlement—”if my health system can’t provide the ‘quality’, the level of comfort, I’m accustomed to, I won’t shop in your hospital any more. If you tell me I have to wear a colostomy bag or go on dialysis, that’s as if you told me I had to buy all my clothes at Walmart—well, I’d rather die.” (I suspect maybe it’s the people who are thinking about “quality of life” who will more likely to change their minds later—”well, come to think about it, I guess I could fix up those Walmart clothes with a few really nice scarves.” For “quality of life” is fear-based and when the Biggest Fear looms, one gives in.)

If we insist on “quality of life”, it’s just the other side of the coin of insisting that we consume all of the machines and tests and surgeries that the Health System has to offer. Both are ego-driven. Both come from force not flow. Both come from an unwillingness to yield to the terms of life.

To refuse to have the course of our aging, illness and death monitored and determined by a monetized Health System is not an attachment to a certain “quality of life.” It’s not a horrified recoil from imagined suffering, limitations, humiliations that might attend a life prolonged by surgeries or other interventions.

It is an affirmation that we choose to continue our aging and death in the same spirit as our present life—that is, to live out that life with the unpretentious bliss that comes from simply being in the flow of life, however painful or messy or nauseous, without desperate interventions or interferences, until the end.

I just came back from Kaiser Medical System. An infected toe that kept me from yoga turned out to be just a very inflamed callous which a beautiful Dr. Zhou cut back so I can walk without pain. I can go to yoga tonight. This is what Kaiser can give me, and I am grateful for it. As Joe said when I told him, I rendered unto the Kaiser what was the Kaiser’s, and will render unto the Universe what is the Universe’s.