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Lions Roar : November 2015
“IT’S ALL OVER NOW.” I heard these words as I stepped out of the elevator at Children’s Hospital. A mother held the hand of her daughter, who appeared to be ten or eleven years old. The girl was quiet, but tears ran down her face. A purple bandage encir- cled her arm at the elbow. Pain is real. Suffering comes from thinking about pain—pain in the past, anticipated pain, and resistance to pain. Honestly, the girl didn’t appear to be suf- fering. Her tears were drying, her face passive. I suspect it was really Mom who suffered. She was suffering because she was unable to stop her daughter’s pain. I can relate. My own 11-year-old daughter is in a room on the third floor, hooked up to an IV, humidified oxygen, and a powerful monitor. We don’t know what’s going on, but we know she’s in pain, and when we try to feed her, her little belly distends. So I can’t tell her it’s all over now. It’s not her first stay. In fact, this is Hannah’s 30th hospitalization. She has an extremely rare chromosomal disorder, one only 15 to 20 other people have at any given time. “It’s all over now” is a reassurance that pain is past and suffering will end if you can just stop thinking about it. But if you try to stop thinking about it, you’re thinking about it. When I was about ten, I got a shot for something. That particular shot really stung, and I started shouting, “Water! Water!” The doctor thought I was about to pass out and gave me one of those THIS DHARMA LIFE It’s Okay Now Do we ever really know how things will turn out? DONNELL KING, whose daughter suffers from a rare, debilitating disorder, has learned not to look for certainty. cone-shaped paper cups to drink from. But I immediately dumped the water on my arm, resulting in peals of laughter from everyone except me. That shot was nearly 50 years ago. You might say I’ve suffered from it ever since. “It’s all over now”—except it isn’t, and won’t be, until we can think about some- thing else. It’s not accurate to say there’s a goal to meditation. But if there were, it would be completely wrong to say the goal was to stop thinking. If anything, the goal is sim- ple awareness. As a skillful means, medi- tators often count their breaths. That’s a simple way to give the monkey mind something to do, something else to think about. You can’t force water to be still, but you can stop shaking it and let it settle. As parents, we try to stop the pain. We seek some kind of certainty—what’s wrong with my child? How do we treat this? How long will she be in the hospi- tal? What are the odds? The fact is, none of us has any cer- tainty. We just have the illusion of it. What’s the prognosis for Hannah? No one knows. You know what to expect from, say, measles, because millions of people have had it. But you don’t know what to expect from a genetic anomaly for which there are only 15 to 20 known cases at a time, each of them manifesting uniquely. Hannah has profound neurological issues that leave her unable to engage in almost any voluntary movement, and even some involuntary ones like closing her epiglottis. Thus, she’s fed by a permanent tube in her abdomen and requires help with breathing and voiding her bladder. She’s unable to speak, and so far hasn’t ©OCEANPHOTOGRAPHY/VEER DONNELL KING is associate professor of communication studies at Pellissippi State Com- munity College in Knoxville, Tennessee. SHAMBHALA SUN NOVEMBER 2015 25 CULTURE • LIFE • PRACTICE