Saturday, November 17, 2012

Hold-Music Practice

My father died suddenly this week.  There's nothing like a heart-wrenching change in our personal universe to test our practice.  The next morning, I had made a dozen calls by 9:00 a.m.  I spent almost an hour on hold with various agencies.  Kinda hard to muster up loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and (especially) patience while those utterly annoying hold tunes are repeating for the umpteenth time, loudly.  (I'll never understand why the funeral home's hold music was heavy metal.)

But at the end of each hold, the person who took my call was, without exception, kind, compassionate, sympathetic (sans joy, of course) and patient.  And in their practice, I found my own.  They were generous - the foremost perfection (paramita) - in the way that is most helpful: they gave me courage not to soldier on, but to feel what I was feeling.  They met me there, every one of them.

The Catholic priest who happened to be the only chaplain on duty at the hospital when I arrived, fresh off the plane with my luggage still in tow, looked me in the eyes not as we normally do in conversation, but in a way that reached all the way to my heart.  I told him I was a Zen priest.  He responded just above a whisper, "Then you know how to do this."

Ours is an all-the-time practice.  Not just for when things are hard, or easy.  Not just for those times when we can find our breath.  I've forgotten how to breathe many times in the past few days, mostly because my heart can't stand to have anything going on around it right now.  I'm not capable of zazen at the moment.  But that's OK.  I don't have to do the practice, because I've discovered that the practice is doing me.  It's right here.  It doesn't leave.  It doesn't judge.  It doesn't fix.  It just holds me.  And if I've learned nothing else in 20 years of practice, I now know that I've learned to surrender fully to that embrace, and therein find the generosity to look death in the face and see it for what it is. 


Vince Larue said...

never been to art school, but I'm in art class each time I go outside, each time I'm chatting with someone, each time I wake up, there are no degree or master degree or PhD, but you get graduated after your last breath.

Thanks for taking life as it is, sharing with others, and allow the most curious Zen practitioners to confront themselves to their own freedom.

Best thoughts -

Djinn said...

Dear Valorie,

This is a beautiful piece of writing; deeply moving and true. Your description of the Catholic priest is a tiny movie, instantly visible, a haiku that will stay with me for a long time. Thank you for your wisdom and insight and skill.

Myomon said...

Dear Valorie,

deep sympathy on your loss. I recently had a similar encounter, around death, with a Catholic priest, and as a lapsed Catholic it was deeply moving to me to be seen and accepted by him in that moment of meeting.

Indeed, the practice, practices you. We can be grateful...

with deep bows, C

Anonymous said...

Dear Valorie:

I feel sad for your sudden loss of your dear father Reading your post, I am moved by the experiences you share as you take care of final arrangements. I'll always be grateful for the warmth and presence of the funeral director as well as the compassion of the Lutheran pastor who cared for our family and eased the way through my dad's service in 2008.

We're all here awaiting your arrival and ready to care for you, as you care for the sangha.

With love and deep gratitude for your clear sharing about this sad event in your life ... dawna

Frances said...

Hearing metal music as on hold music of a funeral parlor definitely is weird. Deepest sympathies for your loss.

Lee Lipp, Ph.D. said...

Dear Valorie,

Thank you for expressing your sad experience with full compassion and deep wisdom. May the dharma, as it expresses itself though you right now, enrich many people as they meet this experience in their own lives. With empathy, Lee

Unknown said...

Dear Valorie,
Thank you for this teaching and the sharing. I am sad about your loss as when my mother suddenly died - over 20 years ago.

Practicing in all those moments being "on hold" - on the phone, at the red light... is much more difficult than in the dimly light Zendo knowing that you sit at the door and watch that the Sangha is safe. Thank you.

jennifer said...

So deeply sorry to hear about your loss. Thank you for writing about it with deep compassion for yourself.

This resonated with me: "I don't have to do the practice, because I've discovered that the practice is doing me. It's right here. It doesn't leave. It doesn't judge. It doesn't fix. It just holds me."

How wonderful to be supported by your practice during this time. Deep bow to you,

Nikos L. said...

Thank you for a succinct and heartfelt sharing of this tender moment in your life.

I, too, was moved by your encounter with the Catholic priest and the boundless quality of your response to the death of someone so near.


Serge said...

I'm sorry for your loss but I'm even sorrier for your ears which had to endure such a song while you're waiting on the line. Those people definitely need to switch their tracks as most of the people who contact them might have recently lost a loved one.