... and its frailties! I have a good friend in England who's going in for some serious surgery later this week, and he has been much on my mind. We spoke yesterday on the telephone--a rather fuzzy connection, but good enough for me to hear the understandable anxiety in his words. We are both of an age when such things carry with them urgent reminders of our mortality, and the fear that the outcome might be less than favorable...
I had written my friend an email just a couple of days earlier, and was afraid that it might have ended up in his junk mail file, as had a previous one. I believe that he is widely knowledgeable in matters spiritual, having served in his professional life as a minister of the Anglican church, but thought it would not go amiss if I reminded him of the Buddha's teachings about suffering: to remain as alert as possible to the kind of attachment that only serves to make the suffering worse--attachment to outcome, to discomfort and pain, to anxiety and fears--by watching them patiently and kindly as they arise, as though from some other place: "This is not me, this is not mine, this is not who I am..." And how simply bringing the attention to the breath can be the best of instruments in helping us through the attachments, when they arise. I was pleased when he told me, on the telephone, that he had been grateful for the reminder.
Of course, in this instance, it really is "not me" going into surgery. Advice is easily handed out by one who would have no less fear in anticipation than my friend. I confess to being one of those who readily imagines it must surely be a brain tumor when I get a headache, or a deadly cancer when my belly objects to something I have given it to digest! The invasion of the vulnerable human body that an operation requires is not something to be taken lightly, and hospitals are truly scary places, to be avoided at all costs whenever possible. I am grateful to have been spared the experience since the occasion, some five years ago, when I went in for the removal of a polyp (fortunately designated "benign") from the duodenum--and the surgeon opted to chop out the gall bladder at the same time.
So my heart is with my friend. He is a strong man, hale and hearty, and I'm sure he'll make a fine recovery. In the meantime, as I told him, I send him wishes for good health and resilience every morning in my meditation. I do hope--and, yes, believe--that shared compassion is a powerful healer. If I were a Christian I suppose I'd call it prayer, but that would require the attention and intercession of Some Being in whom I do not believe. So I'll have to settle for metta, the mindful, intentional, and hopefully skillful practice of goodwill and compassion, as the best way I know how to support my friend.