Thursday, October 18, 2012

Guest Post: Six Weeks Ago

This week I am excited to present a guest post from a dear DC Shambhala Sangha member, who also happens to be my meditation instructor. Jonathan Kirkendall offers a personal, moving and honest picture of impermanence, as he experienced when his partner suffered a stroke...

When you go to a graduate school founded by a TibetanBuddhist master, where the writing department was developed by the Beat Poets,it is not  surprising that the graffiti in the men’s room is poetic dharma. Written acrossthe metal stall all in caps in black magic marker, it reads:


I ran into this little piece of wisdom before classesstarted my first year there, and when I graduated three years later, I had it memorized.  Of course, at graduate school all IS change.  My long red hair morphed into a shaved headwhich became a red and gray buzz cut. Friends changed, classes changed, professors changed, mindschanged.  And soon, Boulder, Colorado changed to New York City, which two years later changed to Washington DC.

Fast forward 20 years. I have changed into a middle aged psychotherapist in privatepractice.  I have a partner, a house, acar, and 2.5 pets (2 dogs, 1 cat).  Not awhole lot changes – not, at least, at the same pace that it did in graduateschool.

And then, six weeks ago, my 45 year old partner suffered asmall stroke - and one week later, as we sat in our living room catching up on Glee,he stood up, turned to me, and with slurred speech and a drooping face, said“My arm’s gone numb.”  I dialed 911 andwithin an hour he was in the ER, hooked up to all sorts of devices.  An MRI scan would later reveal that this secondstroke was significant.  We were lucky however–the part of the brain that was damaged was millimeters away from the part thatcontrols speech and movement.  What wasaffected was his mood and spatial understanding, and that, the neurologistassured us, will clear up over a three month period.

We were, of course, completely relieved.

Except that there were little changes.  Lots of little changes.  If I was on his left side and started aconversation, he wouldn’t respond.  Attimes, there was a certain flatness to his affect that had never been therebefore.  Usually very easy going, hebecame irritable and argumentative. Little things - little things that after living together for 20 yearscompletely un-nerved me.

ALL IS CHANGE. According to the Buddhist teachings,everything in this phenomenal world (rocks, feelings, partners) has threecharacteristics, known as the three marks of existence: impermanence,suffering, and egolessness.  That is,everything is impermanent, no one thing can bring lasting satisfaction, and becauseeverything is made up of a combination of things, nothing has independentexistence.  Basically, everything isalways in flux.  CHANGE IS ALL.

My partner’s stroke reminded us both of this.  For my part, it highlighted how much I hadcome to depend on the sameness of our day-to-day patterns in relating to eachother.  When that shifted – so verysubtly – it was like the rug had been pulled out from under my feet, and it wasexhausting, trying to find ground.  I CANREST IN NOTHING.

If everything is always in flux, there is actually never anyrug under our feet.  So, do we go throughlife floundering, panicking to find that ground?  Meditation practice suggests otherwise.  While meditating, we experience the flux as wewatch thoughts come and go.  They rise, welet go.  We catch ourselves getting lostin story lines, story lines that erupt into full-fledged operas in our heads,complete with costumes and stage hands and divas, only to disappear when weremember to return to the breath.  And inthat letting go of these thoughts and emotions that appear so solid andpermanent, we find peace.  There is norug.  We are dancing in space.  I CAN REST IN NO THING.

Jonathan Kirkendall graduated from Naropa University’sContemplative Psychotherapy program, and is currently a therapist in privatepractice in Washington DC and teacher at the DC Shambhala Center.

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful words from an amazing person.