This is the Underlying Context:
You are wonderful!
I love you.
These three sentences––thought, whispered, spoken aloud to professional caregivers, to VIMS sangha members, to other friends, neighbors, family; to myself, to parts of my body, aspects of my mind and heart; to the garden, the street, the barn, chairs, beds, bathroom, and showers; to the cell phone––have become the underlying context, the bedrock of all that I say and do.
A Labor Day Bike Accident
“Bad things happen.
We tend to make them worse.
Don’t make them worse.
Here is how to not make them worse . . .”
—Tony Barnard’s version of the Four Noble truths
Most of you know that I had a bicycle skid-out on a muddy patch of the Lebanon Rail Trail at dusk on Labor Day. I have a broken collar bone and rib and three pelvic fractures, all on the left. My heroic left shoulder hit first and took the brunt of the force of the fall. Then the well-helmeted head. No concussion. No broken back or neck. I was still sitting on the bike seat when the left hip hit the ground; the left inner pelvic structure in the groin area has three cracks due to the impact angle––while the right suffered muscle and tissue damage in that area and is sorer than the left. I was fortunate to have my cell phone in my right-hand pants pocket. It was easily reachable by my uninjured right arm.
Lying in the center of the damp path with a wet bathing suit under my clothes for the forty minutes or so that it took for help to come, I was sustained by the Dharma teachings, as summarized by Tony’s words above, and meditation practice. I began the Sixteen steps of Full Awareness Breathing then and there. This intimately known practice continued to be the resting place for my mind throughout the long night and following morning––through the police rescue, the ambulance ride, ER experience, X-rays, CT scans, admission. Whenever interaction or movement were not required, I could find rest and the absence of pain in the stillness of the practice.
Mindfulness itself was my strong, trusted, and constant companion. I found I could relax and allow it and its team of supporting factors––interest, energy, joy, tranquility, collectedness, and equanimity––to sustain me, knowing and reminding myself that “my life can take care of itself.” Make no mistake about that phrase. It does not mean I was passive––indeed, all of me needed to be present for that to happen! It also does not refer to indifference. The equanimity there is grown from the deep caring of good will, compassion, and rejoicing. It is, in a sense, hard work to let my life take care of itself. For me it is very nuanced. It requires vigilance and a deep faith in other people. It requires agency and it requires surrendering to all the love and care supporting me and making my very life possible––an impossible balance. It is directly tied to the third Noble Truth: “Don’t make things worse.”
Mindfulness is the ingenious method
of turning an obstacle to our lives
into an object that can be known.
–– Venerable Analayo
Bones – “You have a broken clavicle, a broken rib, and three pelvic fractures …”
This body is made up of skin, flesh and bones …
–– Venerable Analayo’s summary of the
thirty-two body parts in the classical
Four Foundations of Mindfulness Sutta.
Hanuman, the Hindu monkey God, is known and admired for his strength and energy, along with his selfless and unyielding dedication to the God Rama in the stories of Hindu mythology. Rama is an avatar of Vishnu, the maker of the world. Perhaps we could say that Rama as a symbol represents “the way things are.” In that sense, Hanuman is fiercely dedicated to being present to what is happening now––not to how things should be or used to be or might be in the future, but to how things are now. This is Hanuman’s Rama. This is Mindfulness.
This loving, caring commitment to now was so strong in Hanuman that when he died, they found that all over his bones was written the word “Rama.” I love how this image emphatically portrays the powerful benefit of years of dedicated practice.
Donna Moseman was an early VIMS sangha member who died in February 2002 of metastatic breast cancer. For the very difficult last six months before her miraculous home death, Donna practiced Metta, Loving Kindness. Her practice was so beautiful and strong, you could see, as well as feel Metta when you entered her home. The air was light and bright; her face was radiant. Everyone who visited was eventually smiling. At her memorial service, I told the story of Hanuman’s bones. I said that if we could see Donna’s bones, we would know that they were covered with the word “Metta.”
The words that are beginning to cover my bones are the endlessly repeating three phrases at the beginning of this essay: “Thank you. You are wonderful! I love you.” Since the Labor Day bike accident, I have been surrounded by, supported by, and sustained by compassion and wisdom. I realized early on in the hospital that everyone––professional caregivers, friends, and family alike––was expressing compassion. Sometimes it was expressed in easy, familiar ways that I like, and sometimes it was harder to see and feel; but always it was present. I would not be alive without the kindness and skillful actions of an uncountable number of people––including each one of you. Alone on the rail trail, I made connection with others and got help through my cell phone, and from then on the network of care has been stunning! Now that I am at home, sangha and neighbors are bringing food, medicine, and aids to my self-care, as well as comfort and companionship. You water my plants, open and close my windows, bring in my mail. You feed me. You love me. In this way too, I am not alone on this life journey.
I am pretty sure that, if not on my next clavicle and pelvic X-rays, then soon thereafter, the radiologists will be marveling at the writing on my bones.
Thank you. You’re wonderful! I love you.