The recent present has been a series of tightly compacted opportunities for practice, and on every step of the way has been gratitude for the Buddha's teaching, for spiritual friends, and for the clarity of the teachings learned first from you. There are no greater gifts, and I thank you.
Anatta: In a nutshell, I had headaches on the left side of my head for a month that got worse each day, compounded by falling over, episodes of imbalance and dizziness. Looking at that pain, watching it change the feeling of everything, and really understanding it was not me, was lesson one.
Sound and humor: Aug 3. Lesson two was my hour session in the MRI machine, where the sounds became a symphony of silliness; watching mind trying to piece together in this context and make sense of what I know about music and ambient sound; deeply listening to external and internal trying to create "meaning". This weird experience culminated in my shaking with laughter as two tones of honking reminded me of Harpo Marx, which of course ravelled into numerous reminiscences of the Marx Bros.
Anicca: Aug 9. Meeting with neurosurgeon. Diagnosis of a brain tumor a little larger than a golf ball, sitting on the cerebellum, on/in a cerebral sinus, and draped over the tentorium. Dr. Roehrer said "you don't really have enough room for golf balls in your brain. This is a big one and needs to come out." My first thought was that this is REALLY outside the flow I am used to calling my life. Sort of a "how odd" thought moved in and took residence. Second thought was how on earth I was going to soft pedal this to my daughter, who has been unable to discuss even advanced health care directives with me. I never for a second felt any sort of sorrow for myself or any wonder at why. I DID think, "ohmygod, this practice works!" I felt compassion for the people around me, who started treating me differently, and my explanations of why I was in this particular mental space didn't sound right, even to me. I never doubted that my intensified attention was appropriate, but talking about it would not do. I never noticed this before, but talking about just staying in the present and attending to what's there is easily misinterpreted as denial, and that struck me as hilarious, which in turn made me look a little crazy! So I just shut up!
Dukkha: Aug 25. Craniotomy (approached thru right lower edge of skull, behind right ear. That took about 6-1/2 hours. 12 hours in the ICU. I thought I knew what pain was!! At some point a nurse leaned over me, touched my arm and said "just - breathe - slowly - into - the - pain" and I awoke. Tears flowed in gratitude to her. I was in and out of consciousness but each time I stayed awake a little longer and often remembered to be present and really look at the pain closely. It shifted and the intensity varied it seemed, depending on the level of consciousness I was at and my ability to focus in a greater or lesser manner. It surely did not feel personal at all. My daughter had taped a picture of prayer flags that are in my yard, to the edge of my bed table, so I saw those when I opened my eyes - a good reminder. Friends showed up and reminded me that this too was impermanence.
I have a reverse question-mark shaped incision that starts an inch below my right ear, heads up and around the top of the ear. It's a jaw-dropper as incisions go! I have no sensation on right side of my scalp. My head feels like it's made of carboard wrapped in plastic wrap and covered with multi layers of duct tape and sound-proof insulation. No hearing in my right ear. Halo traction during surgery left me with 3 little tender spots of ongoing fire. Part of the mastoid bone was removed, the cerebral sinus the tumor had invaded was removed. My skull is held in place with titanium clamps. My eyes are extremely photo sensitive and somehow tied into my balance. Bright lights and loud noises make me dizzy and tippy. My balance is poor and may not get better. The eye problems and numb skull and hearing may go away. Only time will tell.
Final pathology report results received today indicate there is no malignancy. I will be monitored every 6 months by MRI, and look forward to the Harpo reminiscences!
When my daughter brought me home, she had this reflection to share with me... "Mom, two weeks ago when you told me you had a brain tumor, I went completely crazy thinking about life without you in it, and I stayed crazy worrying, waiting for you in surgery, waiting for you in recovery, waiting for you to be able to go home, and here we are, home." She held her hands apart, measuring, and asked "what was that? Two weeks. It's gone - Where did it go? What was the point of the worry?" I reminded her of when she was very young and liked to think about infinity and how it made her feel giddy. I suggested that she try to look at that piece of now-gone time in the same way she looked at infinity when she was too young to attach concepts to it. Just look at it as a whole, I told her, try not to think about it too much, and maybe something new will suggest itself to you.
The rain this morning left a distinct promise of fall. A few pink baby roses remain in the back yard and they shine when the sun comes out.