Buddhist teachers, existential philosophers and hard knocks college all hammer away on the same topic: old age, ill health and death are coming to us all. If we are lucky. If you’re like me you might hit the delete button right now; I wouldn’t blame you. I like the sand. Especially when my head is in it.
But the last five days with my almost 90 y/o mother-in-law and almost 91 y/o father have me looking around wide-eyed alive. Despite way too much airport time. Last night when my sweet hubby and I were finally on our own, I followed my urge for a glass of wine (not entirely surprising) and then lapsed into an hour of mindless TV (totally out of character). This behavior put me squarely in the 50% enlightened realm, according to Pema Chodron. I know I’ve been quoting Pema lots lately. In the last 15 years she’s been my main teacher other than Gabrielle. If you haven’t taken advantage of her incredibly accessible Buddhist sensibility…maybe now’s your moment.
Paraphrasing here…well, you can wake up in a New York minute. Say your doctor tells you death is coming with the next cigarette, so you quit smoking immediately. Cold turkey. Instant enlightenment 100%. No looking back, no slippage, no second guessing. But the 50% place, the status for many of us for so long, lifetimes perhaps, is to know what we are up to and make less than optimal choices. Time and again.
I could have sat in that sterile Hyatt room and stayed with the rich array of all that was arising: newly soft and exquisitely tender father love; acute despair about the downward turn in his ability to communicate; belly fear that I might never see him again. The 50% place is not for the faint of heart. I indulged in that wine with 100% awareness of the way it erected a wall of safety between me and the utter complexity of all my feelings…this too is a very uncomfortable place in its own right. Especially since I was not willing to drink an amount that would take me completely away from it all.
That’s more the choice for the 5% folks. Awake enough to have an inkling that there are better choices, but taking every available measure to actively avoid them. If you have read this far you probably remember those days. Or maybe it’s your current main hangout zone. Noticing those vague stirrings and whispered misgivings, and then quickly turning the other way. This can go on a long time as well. Lifetimes. Less painful than 50% territory in many ways.
Here’s the good Buddhist news. All three places—100, 50, 5%—are rich and entirely workable arenas. Every place on the continuum is a launch pad for wakefulness. So before the flight whisked me home, I called my dad and basked in mutual delight for the awesome memories we had just created: side-by-side hand holding in pool inner tubes, Texas BBQ on butcher paper, hours watching all the activity at the bird feeder. I let his voice stir up my just below the surface joy, trigger those right there tears. All at once. And here on the plane (being a very marginal flier), welcoming moments of turbulence, entry zones for generic flat out scared. No walls of safety this morning. Recognizing a bit more about my particular strategies for being with intensity. Maybe a need for a bit of a break before I’m ready to let it all in. Remembering that I used to not let it in at all. Grateful to be on the path and feeling so very much.