Thursday, March 3, 2016


When I think about what to write--and what not to write--in these Buddha Diaries, I try to keep in mind my purpose in writing anything I post. As the tag line says, under the title, it's about "getting to the heart of the matter," no matter what that matter is. Sometimes it's politics. Sometimes it's about an art exhibit that I've seen, a book I've read, a movie or a television show. Sometimes it's about exploring a thought I'm engrossed with, a challenge I've received. Sometimes it's very personal... no, that's wrong, it's always very personal, even when the subject matter is. But sometimes the subject matter, too, is personal.

I have been writing less in recent weeks and months, as regular readers will have noted. I have thought aloud, in these pages, about why that is. I have worried about my lack of motivation. And, truthfully, I have been preoccupied with a substantial piece of writing that has involved a good amount of research, getting to the heart of another artist and his work. With that particular task behind me, I'm thinking, again, more about The Buddha Diaries. I've been thinking, especially, this week, about that personal stuff--most of which, in recent weeks, has had to do with health. I worry about sounding self-absorbed or, worse, self-pitying, when I write about those cluster headaches that have been plaguing me.

But then I remind myself that this is all about living the conscious life, about addressing the experiences that come my way in the spirit of honest self-reflection. My worries, it seems, have more to do with what you, the reader, might be thinking of me than about the necessity of writing what I write in order to explore the meaning of experience.

That said, I plunge into a week in which I am obliged to confront the frailty of this, the human body I'm given to walk around in--and which, at some unknowable moment in the future, I shall be obliged to leave. The future grows shorter as the body ages, and shows all manner of signs of disrepair. This week alone, at Kaiser Permanente, I had surgery on Tuesday to remove to (rather harmless) cancerous growths on my face; I went in again yesterday, Wednesday, for a pulmonary function test in connection with two nodules revealed by CT scan on my lung--not a place a formerly addicted cigarette smoker wants to hear too much about; today, a little later, I return to Kaiser for an MRI scan, prescribed by my doctor to be sure those headaches are not caused by some unwanted change in the structure of the brain.

So I watch myself, with these things going on. I was greatly impressed by the the Mohs surgical team at Kaiser, who performed the surgery with great competence, concern for their patient, compassion, and good humor. But they left wounds.  I look at my patched-up face in the mirror, unable to deny to effects of age. These two new scars--though the team took great care to stitch up the wounds with attention to the contours of my face--have already become a part of the image I present to the world, the image other people see and by which, unavoidably, they judge me. I monitor the headaches, day and night. I catch myself worrying about the results of tests on my lungs and brain...

The Buddha reminded us, if reminder were needed, of the inevitability of aging, illness and death. He also taught us that it's possible to alleviate the suffering that goes along with it. A good first step is to avoid denial, to be awake to what is happening in our lives, to be conscious of how our minds are dealing with it. It's this, I think and hope, that The Buddha Diaries is about. If I write about this personal stuff, it's so that I, myself, do not allow it all to slip by unnoticed and unprocessed. I remind myself that the more clearly I observe my personal aging process, the greater the compassion I will have for those who inevitably share this process with me. It's all about being human.

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