Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Uphill Both Ways (Missive from Eagle Rock #2)

It's true. Last year at about this time I was in Vermont a secular Buddhist seminary retreat. Now I am in LA on a city retreat, and both times, I stayed just over a mile from where the retreat was located. This time, it's sunny and 70, that time it was snowy and 30 (or below). Both times, my walk to and from - which I chose to walk the first part of my stays in both places - was uphill both ways. Really.

I know that sounds like a "we had it harder back in the day" statement. The fact is, we have it harder now, and then. All the time, life is hard. Difficult. Strenuous. And frankly, though meditation has made me calmer, less anxious and more open and well-humored, it has also opened my awareness to just how difficult life is. I frankly didn't really know before. This kind of openness to all that is - both what sucks and what is amazing - is what Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche calls "The Genuine Heart of Sadness."

I am no stranger to sadness, never have been. But the kinds of sadness, like the kinds of joy, I feel now are so much more rich and real than ever before. I would actually say that I was further from real feelings before, though I certainly thought I was feeling them more at the time. Honestly, feeling them for real is far more painful in the moment. But it sure makes my life more livable - not to be avoiding what is all the time (now just some of the time).

It is no coincidence, I believe, that I have gotten sick both times. I developed a nasty flu in Vermont, partly linked, I am certain, to walking uphill both ways in the deep snow for a week. Here, I am hanging on the edges of a cold, half in, half out. I have stopped walking, taking rides that are offered, as I am fatigued in both body and mind from 9 days of solid study and practice. It doesn't matter that the weather is gorgeous - what matters is that I know what my body needs. That's pretty new.

It's hard. My body is tired. Yesterday I met with a teacher who's twice my age, who told me she knows she's only getting older. Because she is a Buddhist, she said, she is more aware of death than she would be if she were in denial about it, or obsessing about it. It's good that she's aware, in the large scheme of things - less panic, less suffering - but it's also harder in a way. Because she knows. She can't ignore it.

As my body falls apart a bit right now, I am reminded of what I still try to forget - that this whole situation is pretty precarious. Two people in my life died recently, another is on her way. That they are twice my age is no comfort. And yet, I don't want the comfort. I'd rather know that life is uphill both ways, all ways, than pretend it is a cakewalk. This is true joy, and also true sadness. To get a taste of what actually is, even if it comes in the form of an otherwise gross and sticky head cold.

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