practice as a present participle

Thich Nhat Hanh is fond of teaching that practice has three elements: continuity, presence in this moment, and happiness.  In these times of continuous travel, it’s easy to become unmoored from my daily practice.  Hotel rooms and early starts are not all that conducive to zazen and intense days with late evenings don’t foster mindful consumption.  I like to think there is no “I” but this no-I is having trouble denying the feelings of fragmentation.  And yet, under the shards and slivers of consciousness runs a steady stream of awareness.  It seems knit together the fragments as a river seamlessly knits two shorelines. 

Today, we woke up to rain, snow pellets, and wild howling winds that curved the pine tree tops into sky hooks.  I gave myself a gift of an hour at the art table, playing with shapes and colours.  Then we packed suitcases – again – becoming more and more efficient about what we really need on this trip, and oh-so-reluctantly headed for the nursing home to visit my mother.

The day before was her 93rd birthday.  My brother and his daughter took her a savoury lunch; we were hosting a zazenkai – a day of mindfulness.  She was born in 1918 – the year that saw Daylight Savings Time initiated and when the Red Sox won the World Series.  The last Carolina parakeet died and the Royal Air Force was formed.  Wars began and ended; and, the Spanish flu killed over 30 million people.  A baby girl was born in Rangoon whose continuation leads to this moment when I am writing, you are reading, and even if the Red Sox don’t revive their successes, this moment of being woven together will be irrevocable.

Facing the large glass window with snow pellets pinging on it, I sat with my mother who is now confined to a wheelchair.  She was angry, railing at a universe I can’t access so empathy is just beyond my reach.  Slowly as the words spill out, shredded and disconnected, I decipher her anger is shame.  She can no longer control her bodily functions and, profound though the dementia may be, she knows, feels the humiliation.  As she cries, I try to hold her, awkwardly embracing over the edges of the wheelchair.

The days, minutes, seconds are easy moments to string together as practice.  Surviving time requires no effort.  What time carries along in its flow is the challenge.  The grief, helplessness, rage, and all those visitors from deep in our lives take a bit more effort to sew together.  At least that’s how it feels until I gain the water and feel that steady flow under the fragments and shards of feelings.  Then there is no effort required because it all falls together as segments of a larger experience.

Thank you for practising,


7 thoughts on “practice as a present participle

  1. ah, I needed to hear this, today, having a little grief and anger and sadness to sew together myself at the moment. And it’s taking more than a moment! I can taste the pushing away with logic and cheer and still it comes back to greet me. Going looking for the stream this morning!

  2. Beautiful post. I am sorry to hear of your mother’s frustrations with life as she knows it. And what courage in being present to her in her lost world.

    I will join you and ZDS in the dance of feelings. I have found it true as you describe that constantly returning to the inner stream – the true sense of “I” that underlies it all is the only way through. That is my practice these days – returning to that Silent Stream of Awareness as much as possible.

    Having said that, those suction cups you offered a while back might come in handy as well…:)

    Wishing you peace on The River… C

  3. Christine, hooray for suction cups! They’ve got me out of a few jams in the past. 😉

    bookbird, how is it Down Under?! I loved your blog swap with David. You are both so refreshing to read!

    • Nice to have a guide through this somewhat dark path of sitting with my mother’s suffering. I hope I brought your parents back in a positive way, though!

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