“Trust, only trust
And trust again that’s how
The dew creates itself.” – Issa
I am missing part of my body. My thyroid gland is stored in a pathology lab. Well, some of it. The rest is something else by now. One day, of course, I will be too.
Am I whole? Or is something missing. There is a famous, at least in Zen circles, (so like Pauly Shore kind of famous), line of inquiry that proceeds in this manner. The teacher asks the student, “If, heaven forbid, you lost a hand, would you still be you? A leg? Both? Your sunglass collection? Tell me: where is YOU?”
It’s a fun question to drop into a meditation, the one of where our “I” is. Try it. Use your breath or body to get settled, or even just sit very still for a couple minutes, then point towards the place that feels most like you.
Head? Chest? Hands? An infinitesimal point 26 cm directly right of your nose? Back and forth, can’t tell? All good answers and, most interestingly, all likely to change over time, maybe even during a single meditation. With this truth, the sense of “I” can grow a bit less particular, less certain. The beguiling part of that, why we keep on coming back, MONTH after MONTH with this delicious CEC meditation styley, is that as the “I” grows less specific, a feeling of being a part of something bigger takes its place. This has two major qualities. First, a deeper sense of connection to our environment and to other living things. Second, the slings and arrows, life’s hurty bits, become less personal, less likely to slow our roll. With the discovery that our “I” blinks in and out in different places in our own experience, a fondness for the blinking thing emerges, that thing that opens at the birth of planets and humans and tiny tree frogs, tender as dew.
So, am I whole without my thyroid? In some ways, more than before because each morning, I wake, walk to my pill dosette, and remember I’m part of something bigger that wants me to be well. And at the same time, this something is tender, fragile, beautifully arrayed in colours of feeling and emotion, worth loving and fighting for. It feels right. It feels like a life.
We are here to know it. If not an imperative, it is an opportunity, and as our ‘I’ opens to let in more and more, everything comes into sharper focus, the pleasure, the pain, our beautiful flaws, perfect as a diamond. Then, what lies beyond.
If the ‘I’ tastes like wanting, the whole tastes like having. Peace, love, non-violence, non-harming, satisfaction, reverence, awe. These are the flavours of wholeness, pratityasamathpada, unity of opposites, recognition of the self in the other, deep interconnection at every level of all things, the background radiation on which our lives dance. If you ask me, this is what we are waking up to, individually and collectively. Sure, a bit angrily at times, like a toddler woken rudely from a nap, fighting off the cobwebs of a deep dream. But don’t lose heart. What pulled us into cells from parts, then into bodies, draped fibre optic nerves across the ocean floor, is pulling at us still, because we do better together than alone and the best is on the way.
Time, trust, patience, the work of meditation, same as the dew’s. This month of May we turn our antennae in the interconnection direction, first with our retreat, then our Monday sits. Like any month, every Monday, looking finding, looking finding.
I look forward to being together with all of you.
*James is a physician, author of “Six Months in Sudan” and “Life on the Ground Floor“ and the co-founder of the Consciousness Explorers Club. He practices emergency medicine and trauma at St. Michael’s hospital and is an award winning teacher at the University of Toronto. He directs a program that works with Ethiopian partners at Addis Ababa University to train East Africa’s first emergency physicians and is a member of Medecins Sans Frontieres,. He practices and teaches mindfulness and is passionate about its potential to encourage personal and social change. He is currently procrastinating finishing his third book.