Winter Approaches – Finding Gold in Grey

Two nights ago, my father, aged 94, was pacing around much of the night, talking loudly to imagined voices. To him the voices were real, and maybe he is hearing into another dimension.

Today, my body feels sleepy, heavy and tired. The sky is grey and I look out at the world, as if from deep within a cave of anxiety and foreboding at times. The ground is wet with decayed leaves. My fractured rib is slow to heal. All the gutters need to be cleaned. The days keep getting shorter. Modern culturally conditioned mind says: mundane dreary existence. Buddha and my teachers simply say “the truth of suffering”.

Modern culture never fails to provide ten thousand glittering distractions should we choose to run from winter’s dark embrace. Or, we can take more time to sit quietly in the cave, welcome the darkness, notice the feelings without reacting, cherishing the stillness, simply observing the circle of change. Ah yes – settling into the ordinariness of the present moment long enough to touch the magic. I hear the stellar’s jay calling from the feeder, thanking me for offering his breakfast. Examining the wet decayed leaves, one can see veins imprinted on their surface, veins just like our own. There is a natural order and harmony to all things, and within that truth, I find belonging, unity, home.

I am fortunate not to suffer from depression in a clinical sense, but we all go through moods – yes? One strategy which may be useful – as cliche as it may sound – is to “look on the bright side.” Change your perspective. When I think of all the thrill seeking adventure risks I’ve taken in my life – jumping off cliffs on skis, paddling alone far off shore in the open Pacific, in giant winter waves in a kayak, getting lost in the wilderness without water, hitchhiking through the desert of Western China (Tibet), and a few dozen other harrowing stories, it’s a wonder I am still alive.  But am I truly alive? Or merely an actor playing a part? As I count all my various near death experiences, I am forced to ask myself, “why am I still here?” No, I’m not looking for a philosophical answer here like “God” or “karma”, but  instead something very practical which I can answer right now in my heart: “what is the purpose of my life?”…is it to just distract myself with mindless consumption, seeking to please the self centered ego (which will never be satisfied)?  As with all my words, these are merely my thoughts based on my experience. Take what you like and leave the rest. Seek help and support as needed – a light box in winter, family, friends, health care providers , acupuncture, 988 national hotline.

I may be reducing my hours at CommuniChi  at times to support my father – to comfort him in his moments of difficulty without shunting him away to die alone in a home, stupefied by tranquilizers which make it easier for caregivers, but lead to inner confusion and mental suffering for our elders. May all beings transition from this life with clarity, love in their heart, and awakened understanding of interdependence.

*For the past few months, I’ve been leading weekly talks on Tibetan Buddhism’s Gradual Path – YouTube videos here.

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