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Lions Roar : July 2013
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2013 47 able to run or ride a bike. But I could still lose some weight. Thanks for that. I finished my walk as I started it: in gratitude for what I still had, for the good luck that has fallen my way when I’ve needed it, for a loving marriage of forty-six years, for good health after dire illnesses, for some financial security, for a sunny day at water’s edge, and for the beneficence of a great blue heron flying by. By Stan Goldberg IT WAS 3:30 in the afternoon, and I was gazing through my kitchen window at the Pacific. I’d recently decided to retire from the university because of a chronic sleep disorder that resulted in memory problems, and I was reluctantly accepting the loss of an important part of my identity. My thirty-year-old title of “profes- sor” would be swapped for “professor emeritus” and, as compen- sation for losing the status that went with the role, I’d receive a library card and a free lifetime email address. But I’d also finally have an opportunity to resume my woodworking and travel to exotic countries. Maybe even a trip to Tibet. My thoughts were interrupted by a phone call. “You have cancer,” the physician said to me. “And it’s ag- gressive. If you don’t have surgery, it will kill you. Even with surgery, the escaped cancer cells may still be fatal.” I don’t remember what I said to him, but eleven years later I still feel nauseous thinking of his three words. He couldn’t see me for four days, so in the interim I reread my favorite Buddhist authors. I was hoping to learn from them how to tell my wife and adult children I might be dying and to find some comfort. Yet I found little conso- lation in anything I read and— despite the warnings not to—I grasped at my conditioned exis- tence. There was a gap between what many of our greatest teach- ers wrote I should be feeling and what I was feeling. As the philosopher Alfred Korzybski said, “The map is not the territory.” The writings of re- nowned Buddhist thinkers pro- vided me with a map, but it didn’t reflect my territory. I took no solace in the concept of “letting go” or the ancient adage “draw closer those things you fear the most.” I couldn’t get any closer to my cancer; it was so close that I couldn’t possibly run away from it. And contrary to what I read, living in the mo- ment wasn’t enlightening—it was emotionally and physically painful. I preferred thinking about a past pleasant experience rather than the pain emanating from the incision. Drawing the pain closer only resulted in needing more morphine. In the past, I’d been able to derive comfort by unquestioningly following the words of great Buddhist teachers. Why not now? For me, it had to do with the severity of what I was ex- periencing. Though letting go of a publisher’s rejection of a Today is a good day. And why not? As an old Zen saying has it, “Every day is a good day.” That remark was not made by a young person. It is an elder’s secret. A Zen Buddhist priest, LEWIS RICHMOND is the author of Aging as a Spiritual Practice: A Contemplative Guide to Grow- ing Older and Wiser. PHOTO©KESSUDAP/DREAMSTIME.COM