I “needlessly” “suffered” the wrath of playful puppy – I had forgotten I had made an acupuncture appointment. It was to be a day of distraction, though. While I was getting prepped for it, I had discovered my Ipod was dead, so no Moses code meditation for this session. Thought about queuing up something on the phone/youtube, but decided to keep it simple. As it turns out, “keep it simple” apparently meant let my brain run wild. It wasn’t that noisy – I was tired, so it became a cycle of watch breath, feel buzzy needles, let thoughts float around, and doze off a tad. It was relaxing nonetheless, but certainly not mindful.
That’s okay, though. There was more meditation coming! Woohoo! I had been reminded recently about Zen Center for Contemplative Care, whose volunteers and chaplains I often see visiting patients at Beth Israel. As it turns out, they had zazen on Wednesday nights, so I went. It was nice to be sitting in a room full of people…well, sitting… again. I felt at home as I did sitting in the meditation hall at Blue Cliff, feeling like I was surrounded by spiritually like-minded people, regardless of differing backgrounds and lifestyle beliefs. I still felt partly shy and awkward, though. 30 minutes went by faster than some of my 10-15 minute sessions, followed by a walking meditation, a brief talk by the chaplain in which we were reassured of our mind being likely to leaves us 1,000 times during zazen, and another brief sitting session in which I kept reeling my mind back in and focusing on my breath.
Since I’m writing this several days after the fact I’m having difficulty recalling specifics of my meditation challenges though there were definitely some challenges adjusting my body initially. I ended up sitting on one pillow and supporting my right knee with another. I’ve had some sciatic strain on that side since September, hence the acupuncture. It worked out, though, and my back in general didn’t feel too much discomfort over time. My hands didn’t know where to find balance, though, and given a height difference in my legs a traditional zazen hand position wasn’t happening.
Afterwards, I talked the ear of the chaplain off, and cried a bit.
I have this line I use. When a waiter or customer service person asks me if I want anything else, I often say “world peace and a cure for cancer.” It was just world peace until my mother got sick and died of pancreatic cancer 3 years ago. If I don’t ask for them I’ll never get them, I argue. The chaplain, whose name I wish I could remember, reminded me that such a statement could cause harm to someone, which for some reason made me cry. Not sure why I was so sensitive, except for being present in a space/community that was aligned with my goals – providing compassionate care to the sick and suffering. Plus, I don’t like the idea of hurting people.
Usually when I ask for those things, I get one of two responses: “it’s impossible” or “I’ll get on that/I’ll see if we have that.” Often it is an experience that makes people smile from incredulity or amusement. I had grabbed a snack at Pret prior to meditating and the cashier was so rushed and unhappy seeming. When he implied peace was impossible, I broke out the line from a t-shirt I had bought at Blue Cliff: “Peace begins with your lovely smile.” He said he’d give me half a smile, and I commented “Half a smile to go with my half sandwich.” It actually led to a larger smirk.
I was able to recall an instance where a waitress who had grown up in Colombia did not believe peace was possible, understandably. I continue to hold hope for her. Did I cause her harm by bringing peace up? I also think that my being able to identify with other persons who are affected by cancer is a chance for mutual identification, rather than a harm-causing event.
I look at this from several angles. I think about Dr. Wayne Dyer, trying to help shift the gears of unhappy people we have brief interactions with. The chaplain talked about interdependence, which I had also just read about that morning in Reconciliation: Healing the Inner Child, and entering into the other person’s experience. I also think about a concept that had come up in my English class this semester about authentic vs. inauthentic healing. Though the context was about daytime talk shows, it came to mind about this situation. The lines I use aren’t neccessarily an authentic way of entering into someone else’s experience. They are a line, a gimmick, a shocker – I have lots of those sorts of lines.
Don’t New Yorkers need something gimmicky though to catch their attention? How can I authentically enter into/make lighter the person who is “stuck in a miserable moment” when our interaction will be brief? What percentage of the time are my lines likely to cause harm? I do recognize that when I was working 12 hour shifts on a busy medicine unit, it was very similar to a busy waiter shift, and I was too busy to focus on my problems, which was a relief. Am I interrupting their work zen-peace? Am I possibly being too intrusive even with these simple statements?
I can’t even just say “you can smile” to your average NY customer service e person because it would be perceived as rude, regardless of tone, a majority of the time. Further, if I never ask for world peace and a cure for cancer, and possibly inspire other people to do the same, we might never think it was possible at all.
With the chaplain, I was also discussing how I could better help patients. After meditation the first thing I said to him was “How can you help me save the world?” *grin* I have a goal of leading nightly meditations when I work, which is not so easy to implement on a psych ward given the diverse diagnoses. I also expressed frustration with not having meaningful conversations with patients every time I work. I was reminded by the chaplain that even giving a medication or having a brief conversation might be all a person needs in that given moment. I realized that chasing profound catalytic therapeutic conversation was chasing the high I would get from feeling I have connected with and helped someone. A coworker had said that as psych nurses we are speed bumps in the insanity our patients had been living. Just being there at work, looking out for these patients, interacting with them in the slightest, I am still a speed bump – a brightly lit, pink-haired, speed bump.
Sitting with ZCCC and talking to the chaplain was an unexpected speed bump for me for which I’m grateful. It helps stimulate me to cultivate more intentional effects. I seriously hope that the next year contains more speed bumps than the potholes this past year and a half has held. A spiritual mentor and community and artistic collaborators would be nice, too.