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Lions Roar : July 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2007 33 IN OPENING THE HAND OF THOUGHT, Uchiyama-roshi talks about experience as “the scenery of life.” Experience simply presents itself, one minute after another, the way scenery rolls by a window on a road trip. Such experience is fully engaging if we allow it to be our whole world, moment af- ter moment, without preference. Rinzai put it this way: “Even if all the Buddhas in the ten directions were to appear before me, I would not rejoice. Even if the three hells were to appear before me, I would have no fear. Why is this so? Because there is nothing to dislike.” Oh, really? I have often thought. That’s not always been my experience. The three hells appeared before me last September, when I went to the doctor with a distended belly (I had tolerated that distend- ed belly for almost two months because it matched a lifelong worry: Am I getting fat?) and was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The word “cancer” carries with it some very scary baggage, such as death, debilitat- ing illness, and the removal of much-loved body parts. But the baggage of cancer has been most conspicuous in the people around me. I have become a finite resource: some people have started attending every class and lecture I give; long-distance students have cancelled our phone appointments and flown in to see me; I don’t have holes in my dokusan schedule now. For me, though, the idea of an imminent leave-taking is too abstract. I don’t feel like I’m going anywhere. When I asked my acupuncturist if he thought I was in denial, he said, “Most people, when they get cancer, have some life-altering experience. They become aware of their lives for the first time and reorganize their priorities to make room for some kind of spiritual life. But isn’t that already your job?” I HAD SIX TREATMENTS OF CHEMOTHERAPY. I was put in the hospital for the first two-day rounds so they could monitor me. They shot my belly full of toxic drugs until I labored just to take in air. I felt pregnant, but not with any child of this world. I couldn’t lie down or sit with that enormous belly on top of me; I could only walk. For hours I staggered up and down the hospi- tal corridors, pushing the IV stand ahead of me, and occasion- ally stumbling with exhaustion against the wall. Finally, in the middle of the night, a nurse with tears in her eyes cut me loose from the IV and I walked free. The next morning I thought, Dear God, what do you have to do to bring tears to the eyes of an oncology nurse? I went home on the third day, and chemo hell continued. I couldn’t breathe deeply, eat, or drink. I lived in a primal animal realm in which I was a creature without thought patterns or dis- criminative judgment, experiencing sensations and emotions that passed through in a constant stream. For twelve days I lay on my couch, laboriously breathing in and out, enveloped in a gestalt of pain and fear. Yet simultaneous to that misery was the most beautiful autumn I’d ever seen in my life, happening right outside my room in a grove of maples and redwoods. The slanting light, characteristic of northern California autumns, dramatically showcased the reds, golds, apricots, and browns of the evolving plants. As dawn broke each morning, sunbeams penetrated the windows along my eastern wall, progressively highlighting the dark wood of my The Scenery of Cancer Sometimes in life you don’t get to choose, says Zen teacher and cancer survivor DARLENE COHEN. And that’s a good thing. PAINTINGBYROBERTPOPE.COURTESYOFTHEROBERTPOPEFOUNDATION. Little Lotus Hearts TM How Do You Define Family... Little Lotus Hearts believes that ALL sentient creatures are equal and deserving of happiness and the absence of suffering. With this in mind, we offer many items and services in the Buddhist tradition, dedicated to celebrating and enriching the lives of our animal companions. Prayer services, mani stones, prayer flags, tsa tsas and hand painted protector collar medallions are unique and spiritually awake ways of showing your love. We also offer online tributes, cups, bowls and even stamps featuring your very own animal companion. Little Lotus Hearts is also committed to improving the lives of animals in zoos, protective shelters and in the wild. To find out how you can help with some of these wonderful projects, such as CARE tiger rescue, please visit us online at www.littlelotushearts.com or call 800 713-0569. “Little Lotus Hearts” and “How Do You Define Family...” are trademarks of the Yeshe Dorje Foundation ©2005-2007. Photo by Clint Willard ©2006. All Rights Reserved.