As the Watcher, I watched them enter and search for a seat. They had always had a funny way of seeking, it seemed to me, it was not so much that they scanned a room with their eyes as most people do searching for a friend or a maybe a quiet spot. Nope. their style, and there is an art to it, was to sniff the energy and smell the vibes paying no attention to the who or what of a given space. They settled down across from me and we smiled back and forth recognizing each as fellow travelers, and then the room quieted down as the meeting of death and dying came to order.
Deep resonant voices spoke of the agenda of the day which was to discuss our fears of death and our fears of growing old, of getting sick, or losing our minds, our partners, our independence and finally, our earthly existence. It was a heavy topic – a fruitful discussion would hopefully follow – but first a calming meditation to aid the process of looking fearlessly within as the exercise was framed.
“Go deep now and allow your mind to explore your body……” the one with the bedside manner voice intoned as we sat eyes closed trying to still our mind. Trying to follow the words spoken and allowing ourselves to be guided even as frustration at the hurry up and irritation at the giddy up time, that has seldom played well in our mind.
Next thing we knew people were calling our name Robert…. Robert? with laughter and muffled comments on the side and then we found ourselves sitting squared up with a bunch of wrinkled people and looking down saw that we too had wrinkles on our grandfatherly hands and there was a pen sticking out from the folds of one of those hands and a bright orange slip of paper too small to write coherently upon and a bowl awaiting the droppage of the slip of paper with my deepest fears written upon them. Holy Shit!
We felt rushed and flustered and found it greatly challenging to shift from allowing our imagination to play in the vastness of the mind to then putting our discovery into writing as if one did that sort of thing every day. Making matters worse was the hovering presence of the bowl and the pressure from peers to jot something down and throw it in the pot. A twisted prolegomenon of a tale followed as fingers and pen stumbled and fell upon the tiny square of a parchment and of course we semi butchered the sharing as if but of course everyone has fluid and easily legible writing. Into the pot it was thrown and last from the pot it was picked but being last it was of course read first.
Watching, I was surprised to see R raise their hand asking for the microphone as I did not know them to speak very often in a meeting such as this. Their voice quivering as the microphone swallowed up their thin lips and ancient mustache. From the first words out of their mouth I knew they were in trouble. I’d witnessed this kind of mish mash of mind and emotions of words and connections that had no context, no anchor point to anything that any one else had said, before and I cringed for my friend’s humiliation and desperately tried to get their attention and finally with a stringent CUT MOTION across our throat we got through. R blinked and closed their mouth handing the microphone off to the person beside them with a defeated and utterly stark raving mad look of “OH MY GOD WHAT JUST HAPPENED??” Look about them that I’d seen before.
The room was dead silent. Nobody spoke. Everybody was stunned by the stream of consciousness that had gurgitated out of our throat. We were also stunned. Shocked and humiliated. Our body filling with rushing heat, pounding heart and sweaty armpits. We sat there hiding under the brim of an old college baseball cap – the Ravens – we think and wanted to fly away fly far far away as time ticked slowly by and us, too caught in the glare of embarrassment to move, too frozen by the total inappropriateness of our disconnected speech. We wanted to die and felt there and then as the others discussed their fears that we were in fact living ours out right then and there.
Later, when we were able to slip slide away feeling as we did so that the room was glad for our riddance so that the normal – non-quirky – people could once more convene. It was hours after and days then until the shock and the denial wore off or wore thin enough that we could start seeing the event for what it was and not what we thought it was.
We gazed into the mirror as the steam dripped and watched our body emerge from the mist. We gazed at the body before us naked and white like a plump Cod ready to be grilled. We gazed at the body asking no questions but simply waiting for our heart to open and our mind to grow still and then it came to us out of the stillness, out of the depths where heart and sinew meet mind and bone. “There is a choice,” we heard it say and keening our ears we indicated to her that we were listening and open to hear more. “Can we accept all that we are, or will we hide what we are even from ourselves?”
We saw at once the path forward. Not the path chosen but the one given and we remembered the wise words of our teacher who had said: “whatever occurs in the confused mind is regarded as the path,” and we laughed and we knew what our path forward was. We would share our confusion and we would share the humbling that occured in that moment of confusion of mind and tongue and word.
I was early to the meeting and nervous. I knew that R intended to share their denouement with the rest of the team as they had with me in the weeks following that memorable day. I so hoped they would be seen and held with compassion and that the courage they would be showing and sharing would be appreciated by those gathered. I found my usual corner chair and settled in closing my eyes and pretending to meditate as I waited for R and the others to arrive and settle in.
The day came, we had rehearsed every scenario and slip of the tongue we might make so that we might recover quickly and not lose our path. “I’d like to start the check,” in we said and our voice sounded firm and only a bit shaky. We looked quickly around the room making fleeting eye contact as we began the undressing. “During Pat and Vic’s Sen Gen presentation, we spoke words which had no anchor point, no context or reference to anything anyone else had said, and our words seemed to come straight out of the blue. And while the room sat in stunned silence, we sat with humiliation wishing we could disappear inside our hat, in what we have come to name as one of our “Oh shit” moments. This has happened before.
We frequently mix things up – ‘china in the bull shop’, style. And there are times when we say exactly the opposite of what we are thinking – or in this case we shared precisely that which we did want to share. At that meeting and in that moment when we realized “Holy shit,” we had the presence of mindfulness to simply stop. Shut up and stop. That is new. It is a fruit of our mindfulness practice and of the practice of self acceptance. As is the usual habit of mind following some humbling moment during the meeting, we berated self for this “lost in space” moment and the usual thoughts of leaving the group, never coming back, running away etc occupied the better part of a day and finally wore itself out so that eventually we might see more clearly what gift the dharma had offered and it remained to take a few more days before the words came:
Our fear is being invisible, not heard, not understood. LIkely as a direct result of having 47 versus 46 chromosomes that causes mannerisms of speech and thought that are odd and eccentric and that sometimes flair up. We do not know what the conditions are that make this happen, only two things that have come up as a result of it happening. First, while we do not know why this happens history shows that it happens frequently or at least yearly in Sen Gen, which says that this is exactly where we need to be. And secondly that Dharma is a beast at times and our task is to realize that one needs to learn to love the good, the bad the ugly and the denied within us for any of it to shine forth.