Thursday, 30 June 2011

"Move On?" Fuck That Shit!

My father is dead and my mother is dying. What a matter-of-fact statement this is. Does this sentence convey everything I feel, what I and the rest of my family are going through? Can you, the reader, feel the pain that permeates every word I type here? As you read this, can you see my tears? Do you hear my sobs punctuating the text? The pain of loss, the pain of seeing a loved one fight a losing battle with a terminal illness right before my very eyes - does this single paragraph convey all this to you?

Maybe you've also gone through this. Maybe you're also going through this right now. Maybe you too, know very well the difficulties of losing a loved one and watching another die. Welcome to the club, then. You and I know the pain all too well. And we are, hopefully, each doing our best to live with this.

To live with pain and grief - I think this is pretty much all we can do. To be with my dying mother and with my suffering family - this is all I can do. It's not like I have the power to magically heal the sick and raise the dead.

My sister mentioned something a few weeks ago while we were in the hospital. Seems like some well-meaning folks had been telling her to move on, and her attitude was, understandably, "that's easier said than done." I couldn't agree more.

I hate that phrase, by the way. "Move on?" Fuck that shit! You don't "move on" away from grief. You don't get to dictate what your heart ought to feel, no matter how rational and sensible it may sound. It's not a linear thing where point A is "grief" and point B is "not grief", and we can will ourselves to travel from A to B. Emotions don't work that way. More importantly - and indeed, fundamentally - dukkha does not behave in that manner.

To quote the First Noble Truth:

"Now this, monks, is the noble truth of stress: Birth is stressful, aging is stressful, death is stressful; sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, & despair are stressful; association with the unbeloved is stressful, separation from the loved is stressful, not getting what is wanted is stressful. In short, the five clinging-aggregates are stressful."

The translation uses "stress" instead of dukkha. I, however, prefer to retain the Pali form because it is more encompassing. Dukkha is stress, but it goes beyond our usual ideas of stress. It is suffering, but it goes beyond our usual ideas of suffering. It is the suffering that ensues when we want life to be a certain way, and life does not conform to our desire. What's more, dukkha is an inescapable fact of existence.

And that's why I have a problem with the idea of "moving on". Move on to where? To a place where there's no dukkha? Sorry, ain't no such thing - not here, not in the next life. Anyone who tells you otherwise is deluded because you cannot escape dukkha.

Now if you're a Buddhist like me, you might say, "that's not true! There is a way, it's called the Eightfold Path." That's true, of course. But that path is not your typical linear, "from point A to point B" path. We use the word "path" but actually it is not a path. A path will take me away from point A and lead me to point B. The Eightfold Path does not do this - instead, it leads me to where I am right now. This is because point A is point B, and point B is point A. In other words, the path is my life just as it is in this very moment. If I am filled with grief, that is my path. If there is pain, that is my path. It is the path of no escape, because there is no place to escape to. The path is being here right now with my life, warts and all, tears and all.

So no, I am not moving on. Rather, I choosing something else: I am choosing to live - that is, to be with my life and all its joys and sorrows and everything in between. That is the path.

The pain has subsided for now. My tears have stopped for now. They'll be back, just like the ocean tide. But that's okay. High tide or low, I am still here. I won't always be here, but while I am I will not waste my life trying to escape the unpleasant bits while clinging to the pleasant ones. I will embrace them all.