Now at three in the morning, as I stared up into the semi-darkness of the hospital room, my back throbbed and the wound was fiery with pain. What would Ruth Denison, [my meditation teacher], say about my dilemma? I summoned her to stand in her strong, square-shouldered body at the foot of my bed, her craggy face inclined toward me. "Darling," I heard her say, "part of your pain is caused by your fear of pain. You want so much for it to go away. You pull in the opposite direction, and so the pain grows bigger."
|"Darling," I imagined my teacher saying, "part of your pain is caused by your fear of pain. You want so much for it to go away. You pull in the opposite direction, and so the pain grows bigger."|
In many dharma talks in the meditation hall at Dhamma Dena [Denison's Buddhist retreat center in Joshua Tree, California], Ruth had discussed our fear, and our suffering.
"What if you were to surrender to it, to welcome it like a friend. You are very interested in your friend, you give all your attention to her. Can you give your attention to the pain? What are the sensations in your back? What is their nature, their intensity, their texture? Do they stay the same or do they change? Your pain is not so simple: it is a worthy object of your meditative inquiry. Can you be with it here? Can you return into this body/mind process and be faithful to it; investigate it and see its insubstantiality?"
"All right, Ruth, all right!"
"Yes, darling, you try it. You know how to do it."
Slowly I pushed myself onto my side again, adjusted the tube in my nose, and straightened the smaller tube from the needle in my hand to the hanging bag of fluids, and allowed myself to come as fully as I could into contact with my body. First I attended to my breath, watching as it slowed and deepened.
Then I sent my consciousness to my lower back, where I found a thick hard girdle of sensations. I stayed there, watching this pain that seemed solid, being with it even though I felt the urge to escape. No, stay here, stay here.
Gradually, as I attended, the sensations in my back began to lose their solidity. Now I experienced movement, a pulse and flow, a chaotic dance of atoms. I could penetrate only so far, experiencing this agitation as my pain still, but I began to be genuinely interested in the nature of the sensations. Some of it hot, some like electrical currents twitching my nerves, some a flowing of particles. I held my consciousness there in my lower back, becoming fascinated with the performance.
For a time the concentration steadied, even while part of my mind wanted to scream at the pain. From somewhere far away I heard a nurse's voice in the hallway. My roommate snorted, and turned in her bed. Still, I stayed with the sensations in my back, focusing more and more fully into those tissues.
And finally there were only the sensations--without a name or a definition or association--only the elemental vibration of phenomena expressing life.
For a few moments I was able to stay with this experiencing of the flux in itself, separate from my identifications and desires. What a huge freedom it bestowed.
Then I fell back into my "I" and experienced the sensations as if they were attached to "me," and they became pain again. The tissues of my lower back complained.
I spent the hours until dawn alternating between deep penetration into the sensations, into the tissues and the energy there, and times of identifying and feeling this activity as "pain."
Back and forth, engaged and then slipping away, engaged again. Until light from the window came pale and thin into the room, and I heard Charlene shift in her bed, and I knew that soon the nurse would come.
Gradually the mechanical attachments that held me, like Gulliver to the ground, were removed. How to describe the relief when the nurse pulled out my nose tube. True, it scraped the tissues excruciatingly as it came out, but then I could breathe unobstructed, both nostrils open. What joy my body felt.