When you experience events that are totally outside your control, you begin to wonder how much is ever actually within your control. Even in the daily act of driving a car, we do things that help us feel more in control, like clenching the steering wheel harder and harder in a high wind. Once you have reached a certain pressure and friction on the surface of the wheel, what good does it do to grasp harder and harder? It might even be counter-productive because of the tightness you are creating in your arms and shoulders. Ironically, we think we are trying to get more comfortable with the situation.
Like a blinding rain storm that buffets our car, physical pain, death, passing time, and even joy also move through and on regardless of our desires and our efforts. How do they do that? How can we live comfortably in this ever-changing world? These are among the questions to be explored in this blog.
We will consider the Buddha’s advice, ostensibly about the rain:
The rain pours down upon the well-roofed house.
It falls not upon the house that is roofless,
Therefore open wide that which is closed,
And the rain will not descend upon it. (Udana 5.5)
And Lǎozǐ’s advice to the emperor, usually translated as “Do not interfere, and there is nothing that will not be done” The character-by-character version is cleaner, and avoids the dichotomy implicit in the word “interfere,” a duality between my action and other activity, between me and the world. Wú wéi ér wú bù wéi. 無為而無 不 為 Not do, therefore no(thing) not done.
(Note the difficulty created when English inserts the ontologically loaded word “thing” into this “cleaner” version to make it more readable. This blog will consider a number of such linguistic traps.)
These reflections began during the 18 months between my wife Laura’s diagnosis for stage 4 brain cancer and her death on January 30, 2010. Four years later and having just turned 70, I have come to the conclusion that the book project I have been working on to develop and record these reflections may or may not get done by the time I turn 80, assuming I reach that age and assuming I don’t find yet another author who absolutely must be analyzed before submitting anything for publication. Therefore, I have decided to follow my own advice and to let go by blogging.
Many people focus on the letting go, on the “not do” in Lǎozǐ. They tend to forget about the equally important point “no(thing) not done.” They’ve made a dichotomy between doing and not-doing. Both the Buddha and Lǎozǐ warn about the pitfalls of such dualisms, and both are mistakenly seen as go-with-the-flow dropouts. In fact, both had very active (non)agendas. The Daodejing was written as a manual for how to govern a country. (See Rudolf G. Wagner’s three volume study.) The Buddha taught nothing less than how to end suffering. As for me, I am not doing a book, but I am blogging, which someday may result in a book. The book is no longer the point. So the blog gets done.
This blog will be organized around six insights that opened my eyes and my heart in different ways. The first four were said by Laura during her illness. My cousin Bill Daly said the fifth during my mother’s wake, and the last comes from a poem by Yehuda Amichai. As items are posted here, they will be placed in one of these categories and can be reached through the navigation menu in the sidebar.
- As we were driving home from her last Avastin infusion, I told Laura that I was thinking of going on family leave and then retiring to spend more time with her. She vehemently opposed my stopping working because, as she said, she did not want me to waste my time “reading and scribbling.” The posts under this heading reflect on the process of reading and scribbling.
- After Laura’s surgeon, radiation oncologist, and oncologist told her that she should look for a clinical trial because there was nothing more they could do for her, I heard Laura tell visitors about the “three kiss-offs” she had received from them. These posts will discuss pain, suffering, and feelings, how we think about them, and how we act with them.
- When I was putting her to bed one night towards the end, Laura said “Whoever you are, I love you.” These posts concern questions of who is dying, who continues to live, who loves, who is loved, selfhood, and the Buddhist notions of no-self and compassion.
- In the first months after diagnosis, Laura frequently said to me and our daughter Anne Mei, “I will miss you.” These posts will address death, regret, and what comes after.
- During my mother’s wake, we were talking about the many sweets being prepared for the party my mother wanted us all to have after the funeral. When I mentioned that I had stopped drinking, my cousin Bill thought a moment and said, “Some cop is not going to arrest you for driving under the influence of Dunkin’ Donuts.” These posts will discuss practical applications of some of the abstractions and speculations elsewhere in this blog, to explore how open-the-roof and not-do are not just Eastern mysticism nor facile word play.
- Between my mother’s death and Laura’s death, I read Yehuda Amichai’s book of poems Open Closed Open. The words in Amichai’s title are adjectives. For reasons to be explained in these posts, I look into the verbs, open close open, to understand a world constantly moving and changing.
Copyright. All rights reserved on all content in this blog. Kenneth W. Daly, 2014.