Sunday, 26 December 2010

An Invitation To Practice

I don't believe in God.  I see no evidence for his existence.  But last night I found myself wishing he did exist.

You see, last night I broke down.  After spending several nights with little sleep, getting up every few hours to change my one-year-old's diaper and apply the cream to his diaper rash while he cried in anger and pain, and wondering when the fuck will his intestinal flu go away, I broke down.  I stood in the shower while trying to wash him as he wailed nonstop.  I stopped what I was doing and screamed out of sheer frustration at the situation.  My wife, who was herself feeling ill, had to get up and finish the job herself.  In my mental state, there was no way I could have taken care of him.

Patience has never been one of my strong points.  And waiting for my son to recover ever since he came down with a virus last Tuesday has been torture.  I have started hating - HATING - every farting noise coming out of his body that signals that once again, his diaper needs changing (which he dreads because his rash burns and wiping it apparently makes it burn even more).  Every diaper change has been like a mini-jujutsu tournament where he kicks and screams while I try my best to remove the soiled diaper, gently wipe his body, apply the ointment for his rash, and put on a new diaper - all while desperately whispering reassuring noises and words.

Last night, in my stressed mind, I was practically screaming at his pediatrician "Are you even doing your fucking job right?  Why isn't he getting better?"  Later as I lay sobbing in my wife's arms, I knew: I had hit a wall.

Hitting a wall sucks.  It always sucks.  And because it sucks, it is a huge opportunity to learn about yourself.

I learned that much as I like to think of myself as a rational and reasonable man, I can get pretty irrational when emotionally agitated (like everyone else, I suspect).  After all, I was having an imaginary conversation (okay, it wasn't really a conversation because in my head I was yelling and cursing while the doctor just listened).

I learned that while I don't believe in God, my Catholic upbringing still exerts a powerful influence on me.  I caught myself wondering if I'm being punished for my newly found atheism and Buddhism.  I learned that the belief in a divine being was truly irrational, because it was only in my moment of irrationality that the thought of divine punishment occurred.  I caught myself wishing there was a God.  Then I realized that I wasn't really wishing for a God, I was wishing for a GENIE: someone who would hear my wish for my wife and son to get better and make it happen.  A genie named God who would, with the proper spell or prayer, give my wishes priority over the wishes of those who are suffering from even worse illnesses and situations.  I mean, I am glad that neither my son's illness nor my wife's is life-threatening - but I want them well goddammit!

I also learned why it is that a Zen Buddhist practices Zen:

I practice because no amount of reasoning (no matter how sound it is) will be enough to get me through the tough times.  Because there's a difference between knowing that even pain and suffering are impermanent, and KNOWING this - KNOWING not just intellectually, but KNOWING FULLY that even pain and suffering are impermanent.  With my entire being.  And it is this KNOWING FULLY that is pretty much the point of Zen practice.

To know fully, to truly understand and accept the impermanence of existence; to manifest and express Buddha nature; to live with my walls and embrace them in order to learn from and ultimately breach them; to embrace my irrationality even as I seek to be rational; to hold Life with all its joys and sorrows in my heart;  to live as a Buddha, an Awakened One; and finally to just LIVE: this is why I practice.

That wall was an invitation to practice.  I think all walls are.


  1. I hope your wife and son, as well as you, are feeling better by now. Equanimity in the circumstances you describe is freaking hard.

  2. Thanks, Richard. We're all feeling much better now. Fortunately I was the last one to come down with the flu - just as my wife and child were starting to get better. So at least we didn't all get sick all at the same time because that would have been even more difficult.