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Lions Roar : May 2014
Three of us went to a restaurant. Pasta with bottarga and all kinds of special dished emerged; wine too. Carlo would suddenly be happy. Then in almost the same moment, he’d be desolate and heartbroken. He’d look away. Although my condition now is nowhere near as grave as his, I realize how extraordinary was Carlo’s willingness not to shrink from the overwhelming waves of love and sorrow. As the Indian mahasiddha Naropa described it, living in con- ditioned existence is like “licking the honey on the razor’s edge.” knowing that we are close to the edge of it all being lost brings to life a sudden intensity of love. Even if my mortality might be imminent, I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for everything that comes my way. Dare I say it, this disease has made me feel more alive. I write about this to a friend who endured a long siege with lymphoma. He replies, “I certainly hope your ‘mortality’ is not that ‘imminent.’ But as you imply, it could be. To feel that is a great thing. I’ve always, always looked at my cancer as a great gift.” My sister-in-law enjoyed a long remission after grueling treat- ments for ovarian cancer. She was, as she acknowledged, utterly grateful for the transformation she experienced. She had no more time for the petty negativities that had previously under- mined her. “I’ll never regret it,” she tells me. Relatives, friends, and acquaintances from all over begin to send me words of encouragement, prayers, and good wishes. Some I barely know: a local music critic, many friends of my wife, members of her mother’s church. The expanse of kindness is overwhelming and humbling. Many have been through a simi- lar experience and almost all at least know someone who has. What is happening to me is in no way unique. When the test results indicate that my situation is less grave than it might have been, the congratulations from those around me convey a collective relief that I don’t yet feel, though the warmth of everyone’s embrace is palpable. My surgery has been successful in removing all the melanoma that was detected. My prospects are good. Nonetheless, I’m reluctant to view what I’ve been through as merely a scare or an unpleasant episode. I run into a friend who had a brain tumor. The surgery was risky, and many of the potential outcomes were terrifying. She told me how, now that she’s recovered, peo- ple want to say it’s over and behind her. “I can’t tell them,” she admits, “but really, in a way, I don’t even want it to be.” For me, a door has opened to living with less certainty, greater intensity, and far more gratitude. Fear of the cancer’s return, future treatments, pain, and dying bring an enduring sharpness. Buddhist practice in this context is, as always, simply not getting caught in discursive elaborations. Thoughts and feelings come and go. We do not choose what we think or feel. Love and friendship, the scent of the summer air, the shadows by the stream are each uniquely valuable. So deeply to be loved. Everything seems new, bright, strangely exhilarating. It is, I feel shy to say, something like falling in love. ♦ Professional development, spiritual practice, innovative approaches to End of Life Care. Attend full series for $1,000 discount or choose a single module. Metta Institute Trainings in Mindful & Compassionate Care WWW.METTAINSTITUTE.ORG 415 331–9600 SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA INFO@ METTAINSTITUTE.ORG FACULTY: Frank Ostaseski, Rachel Naomi Remen, Ram Dass, Norman Fischer, Charlie Garfield, Frances Vaughan, Angeles Arrien, Ange Stephens and more. New Series: 2014 End Of Life Practitioner Program Wise Relationship July 16–20 Cultivating Presence October 1– 5 SHAMBHALA SUN MAy 2014 26