This porcelain lady has played the silent koto for at least three decades. I had bought it for my mother as a birthday present; she collected “curios.” At the last minute, I decided the potential of her rejecting the gift over some imperceptible flaw was too much for me to handle so I kept it. An act of emotional cowardice perhaps but I’ve never really regretted it. There is something about her intense and eternally focused dedication to her art that steadies me every time I see her on my shelf. This morning, her hand fell off. And I’ve been sitting here wondering how she’s going to manage.
Yesterday, I gathered up my jelly-like resolve and headed down to the hospital for a solo trip on the wards. The Reverend Bosses are away although the newest Chaplain was hanging out. We chatted for a while and I discovered how hard it is to convey Buddhism in bite-sized bytes to a non-Buddhist. It highlighted the fact that in my professional circles, I don’t tend to share or have the opportunity to share about my spiritual practice. Ironically, we talk tomes about mindfulness. Mindfulness-this, mindfulness-that, and isn’t it all interesting about MB-everything. But the topic of Buddhism and personal paths seem a conversational no-fly zone.
Armed with my trusty identity badge (I finally have a badge with a picture that doesn’t look like I’m in sore need of a bath!), I headed off into three floors of mental health units that made me regret not bringing bread crumbs so I could find my way back out. I must have been quite the sight: ten steps forward, stop, look back, remember where I came from, don’t trust the directional arrows on the wall, proceed another ten steps. Being directionally-challenged, I seriously dislike this form of not knowing. Next time, I’m taking my Garmin wrist GPS.
In the last post, I mentioned that my goals for Chaplaincy have been trashed – more or less. It’s one of those things where serendipity and desire met leading to a new path that landed me in a mental health hospital rather than the comfortably known environment of police and military service. This is all new for me. I had no illusions that my professional role as psychologist would allow any soft landings and I was/am determined to not reach for that set of robes. But I didn’t count on the long-trained reflex that would have me dragging them into view. In a conversation with a nurse, it didn’t take long for the ego to feel a need to establish credentials and haul out the sequined moon-and-stars, empire-waistline, sateen gown. I think awareness kicked in quickly enough that only the hem and petticoat flashed.
Over in the long-term facility, I searched out a patient I had met on previous visits and wanted to check on. “Hi, I’m Lynette. I’m the Chaplaincy Intern?” (Oh dear God, do you have to sound like a telemarketer!) OK, so this is new too. I am politely told where to go (next floor up) and as I head to the elevators, the young person sitting by window calls out. “Hey! Who are you? What are you doing here!” I suddenly realize I’m doing that “on a mission don’t make eye contact in case someone needs you outside your office” walk I learned in my previous internships. Look up. Make eye contact. Be grateful someone woke you up. She smiles; I smile and introduce myself, sounding less like a telemarketer and more like I’m a happily lost soul. We talk at length about Monkey’s Journey to the West and she asks me bring back some books because “Buddha is awesome.”
In our conversation that wound from her holiday gifts through tears about life as it is in this moment and laughter about the antics of Monkey, I noticed a need to ask about her diagnosis, her treatment, her labels. None of that mattered a damn in that moment and would only have served to separate us. But my monkey wanted to know because the usual things I can reach for to create protection and an illusion of wisdom are not within range.
So today, when my Lady of the Koto lost her hand, I understood what I’m up against.
Thank you for practising,