Friday, August 9, 2013

Change Your Attitude, But Remain Natural.

I’m pretty sure I’ve written here about the lojong slogans I’ve been working with for many years now, the system of mind training that was developed by a teacher in Medieval Tibet. I’ve held onto this one aspect of my Buddhist practice – I haven’t meditated regularly in years, but I am still Buddhist in worldview and approach to life – because it’s simple, practical, and works (though slowly and not without some backsliding from time to time). And because there are flash cards.

The system consists of 50-some slogans that are designed to train your mind away from habitual responses that, if they’re not making things worse, are certainly not making things any better.

People work with the slogans in different ways; I’m pretty loose about it. Sometimes I try to keep one of them in mind for a day, a few of them seem to always apply and I’ve had them tattooed onto my body, sometimes I’ll keep going back to one over and over for a period of time if it applies to something that’s happening. Like now.

“Change your attitude, but remain natural.”

It means that when you start getting caught up in how miserable or how ecstatic or how anything YOU are, stop and look around. It means that when you find yourself thinking about yourself so hard you’re gnashing your teeth (whether it’s how awful things are for you at that moment, or how great), stop, direct that concern to others, and just relax. In other words, “Get over yourself and pay attention,” or even, “It’s not all about you.”

And work to make that your first response, to think about others instead of yourself.

I’m in Indiana. My mom’s been through the wringer the last couple weeks. We just brought her home from the hospital today after a little over two weeks there which started with severe abdominal pain, then emergency surgery a few days later for a perforated bowel. Only in the last couple days has she started to look like herself again. Recovery will be long and slow and accompanied by uncertainty about what caused the problem in the first place. Her doctors can’t poke around in there to find out until she has healed from this surgery.

My mom, who will be 74 next month, who has always been independent and fit, who is used to long walks and bike tours, tending a big yard and flower gardens, baking bread, cooking and cleaning and raising hell, today has to conserve her energy for a walk across the room.

I’ve been trying since I got here to figure out how to write about this. I need so badly to write about this – it’s how I make sense of things, it’s how I get my mind in balance, it’s the one thing I can do that I know will make me feel sane. But as I’ve said many times my rule is to avoid telling stories that are not mine without permission – and to be skeptical of permission even so, because people who are not writers don’t usually fully understand what it means to share publicly your personal life – and this is not my story. It’s about my mother’s body, and what could be more subject to permission than the inside of your body.

Despite the fact that this is my blog and sort of by definition about me, there’s something obscene about making THIS about me.

“Change your attitude, but remain natural.”

When I find myself wanting to just relax and cry (it has felt unbearable at times to watch my mother feel such pain), I realize that most of what I want in that moment is sympathy. I want someone to hold me and tell me it’s okay. And if I’m honest the one I want to hold me is my mom.

I had no idea that still, at 52, I come home to visit my mom because I feel taken care of. Not even her bout with ovarian cancer 5 years ago, when I spent the summer here cooking and helping around the house during her chemotherapy had much success rooting out my attitude that my mother is the one who comforts and I am the one who gets comforted.

Times like these I realize that not everyone is the raging narcissistic artist I am. C seems to understand in a simple way that things come up in your life and you deal with them, that when someone in your family is sick you go to them and help. Not that my first thought wasn’t to rush to my mom and do whatever was needed, but I was paralyzed by the urgency, the fear, the not knowing what WOULD be needed.

C just looked at me and said, “Don’t freak out, that isn’t going to help anything. Check flights going out tonight. If it’s too late to fly, we’ll rent a car, drive all night, and be there when she gets out of surgery.” Change your attitude, but remain natural.