Thursday, June 25, 2009

Thank You, Farrah Fawcett

Even though the media followed every step of her journey with cancer for the past 3 years, it was still a shock to hear that Farrah Fawcett died today.

This woman whose beauty, fame and good fortune seemed limitless reminded me that all karma--positive and negative-- exhausts itself. She was the epitome of vibrant health for so many years. Like all beings, she probably never imagined how it would end. Even in the final months when she knew she was dying, she couldn't know exactly where and when it would occur, what it would be like. Would she die in her sleep? Would she slip into a coma, or be conscious and say her goodbyes?

A woman I spoke to last week just lost her father. He was elderly but had been in good health his entire life. Out of nowhere he developed Wegener's. It spread like wildfire, and he was gone within a month. The nine people killed in the D.C. train crash this week. Certainly every one of them expected to complete that commute like any other day. As I write this, it is announced that Michael Jackson has died of a heart attack. No warning, not one moment to say goodbye.

We are taught that contemplating the impermanence of all things is the most powerful meditation there is. So I take this gift from Farrah and share it with you. Be kind to someone--anyone-- today. Remember that the world is always full of last moments.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Time for Tights

Today's the last day of Spring. Told ya....

(And good sport that he is, President Obama laughed all the way through it.)

Thursday, June 11, 2009


Today is not the anniversary of anything major in my personal life. I know that, because sometime during my 30's I began to mentally record important dates in my life. Not birthdays and things like that-- I'm still awful at remembering those-- but "anniversary" dates. The day I found my dog Laika living on the streets of Spain, and the date she died. The days I adopted Patch and Lotus. The day I became a chiropractor. The day I first saw my lama. The day I was ordained as a nun.

And then there are the Wegener's dates. The day I had to acknowledge that something was seriously wrong-- the first CT scan. The day I was diagnosed. And a boatload of other dates that make me shudder to remember.

The Wegener's dates are not all bad. The last day I had to be on oxygen. The last painful heparin shot. The day I got off chemo and steroids. The days I met my amazing doctors at Johns Hopkins, when each of them first told me, "I believe you" and "I can help you" and "Your life can be better than this."

My personal calendar is really filling up with all this. So I'm playing with this Anniversary Date Habit thing lately. Constantly counting the days "since" keeps me engaged with them as if they were the present. The past never gets to be "passed." At some point I'll be able to take a big pink eraser to all these mental dates and forget about them once and for all. But for starters, I'm just going to let myself ignore the big June dates this time around. They can come and go and if anyone asks "Wasn't it June when you ...?" I'll just look at them and say, "I have no idea. I'm just no good with dates."

Thursday, June 4, 2009

One Simple Act

I'm not really a writer, I just play one on the internet. So yesterday, when I decided to write a post about my sangha brother Sam and his encounter with a local snake, I couldn't figure out how to begin. Alas, this morning's Rigpa Glimpse of the Day fed me the opening :

What is compassion? It is not simply a sense of sympathy or caring for the person suffering, not simply a warmth of heart toward the person before you, or a sharp clarity of recognition of their needs and pain, it is also a sustained and practical determination to do whatever is possible and necessary to help alleviate their suffering.

Sam spent a lot of time living on our retreat land in rural Arizona and had met up with a few snakes before. So when he found a baby snake in his room at the temple on Sunday night, he picked it up. Unfortunately, the snake didn't know Sam to be the kind-hearted, gentle guy we all know him to be, so he bit Sam twice on his finger.

Sam's a long-time practitioner and a pretty cool customer. He put the snake into a flower vase and called a couple of sangha members to help identify it using the internet. They decided the snake was a poisonous copperhead, but before heading for the ER Sam circumambulated the Enlightenment Stupa three times carrying the vase full o' snake, making prayers for its auspicious rebirth. Then he walked out to the woods and set it free.

Not only was the snake's life saved, but it received rare and extraordinary blessings. Because of seeing and circumambulating the stupa, the little snake will attain enlightenment in some future life. Just from that one simple act.

The thing is, training one's mind to perform a "simple" act like that takes time and dedication. It takes consistent effort to counterbalance our conditioning. In this world we are taught that humans are superior life forms, and that among animals snakes are way down at the bottom. We are taught that animals live happy lives, even though the briefest observation would reveal that their lives are full of suffering. We are bombarded with societal norms that tell us there's only this one life, here and now. We are encouraged to act as if our actions--whether positive or negative-- only produce immediate results, or none at all. We just don't think long-term. And we really don't think about the distant, future lives of poisonous little snakes.

But on Sunday night as a result of his dedicated practice, Sam did. As our Aussie sangha would say, "Good on ya, Sam."