I find myself strained, Dear Reader. Lost at sea now for almost a week.
The stresses of last year finally hit me after a short jog on Saturday. Elated for a moment, my dysfunctional brain interpreted the adrenaline as a fight or flight situation.
And my immune system decided that my body was the threat, so I’ve been plagued by respiratory and dermatological allergies since then. This did little to ease my persistent panic. Now, every physical oddity is a death sentence. I’ve diagnosed myself with everything from diabetes to throat cancer over the last week.
Benadryl helps with the anxiety and allergies, but that’s an unsustainable solution. Simultaneously, I’ve developed another abscess on my chest—I’ve had them on and off since I was in high school. Without medical insurance (thanks Trump), I can’t go to a doctor for any of these issues unless they become a dire emergency. The anxiety is fear of the unknown. If I could just receive a confident, “You’re not dying,” from a professional, I’d be fine.
I’m off work now, I’m too blind to drive so I quit so as to not risk my ride’s life on the nightly winter back roads. I was full of gusto and optimism at first. Now, a month later, I just find myself without distractions. My fears and shadows have my full attention and I’m only able to look away when I’m outside with sky.
I’m unable to determine what’s real and what isn’t, beset by doubt and fear on all sides. What good spirits I do find, are swiftly shattered by the arrival of a new phantom.
As I sit here, I’m faced with a classic crisis of faith. Comforted solely by bitterness, I wonder if my latent pessimism and nihilism are my true salvation. In a dark, rotting world, is it more skillful to guard the light or learn to see in the dark?
“It’s all mind,” is of little use here. “It’s all empty,” a gleaming beacon.
This is not important in itself, for my peace is irrelevant to me. But the peace and endurance of my friends and family is dear. The last thing I want is for others to suffer my loss. But I have no say in my departure date. With all of the stress and maladies in this life, I don’t anticipate old age. So they have to be prepared, as prepared as I am.
Should I comfort them with light or shadows? Should I help strengthen them with warmth or cold? Am I powerless against their grief either way? Must we all find our own way from suffering?
I have no answers. I can only offer a particularly Zen quote from the Bible:
“Why are you anxious about clothing?Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They don’t toil, neither do they spin.”
To live happily, life can’t be seen to be all that important. Anyone who’s seen buzzards picking at roadkill should know this. Anyone who’s stood in a hospital room for hours with the coldening corpse of a family member should know this. Anyone who’s gone to war, or watched the news for an hour should know this.
Nothing is sacred, nor is anything unholy. To live happily is to say no to all of our comparisons, judgments, and opinions. Saying no to gain and thus negating loss. Then we might finally find something worth having, something enduring. Maybe then we’ll know the wisdom of the lily.
Start where you are, and use what’s available. Whether you’re up or down, there’s no point in wishing things to be otherwise. If you wait to practice until the waters clear, you’re going to be waiting for the rest of your life. Use the mud, use the turbulence, use both light and shadows, cold and warmth. Breakthrough without hesitation and see through your transient, shape shifting illusions to what’s real: the lilies of the field. The spring rain in the valleys.
What do these things have in common? They are not aware of themselves. They accord with their nature. They do not cling. They do not suffer.