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Buddhadharma : Winter 2013
WINTER 2 0 1 3 BUDDHADHARMA: THE PRACTITIONER’S QUARTERLY 67 at a ten. My perceptual field was breaking up. My senses were not working coherently. I called Joseph, almost hysterical. I could not meditate at all. Joseph stayed on the phone with me for an hour, returning me to my breath over and over again—gently, patiently, compassionately, until I was able to stay with it. My clinched attention loosened up. The knot around my ego’s identifica- tion with the body let go, and the witness reap- peared. Subjective suffering disappeared. The pain was no longer all-powerful. I felt human again. This is the possibility that the dharma offers me. I can remain compassionately human in the midst of profound affliction—even in constant pain or with a disability that almost separated me from the world. Dharma practice does, in fact, explore the very basis of all awareness, and points to a reality beyond alienation—a reality where I am interdependently linked to all living creatures. After two years under Joseph’s guidance, I found a place that allowed me to live at peace with the physical pain. Joseph suggested that I meet his core teacher, Anagarika Munindra, who talked with me about my practice. He and Joseph gave me permission to start teaching. I wanted to work with people like me—people who did not fit into ordinary practice, who were alienated, outside, disabled, or chronically ill. Obviously, given my own limitations, my teaching is lim- ited to a small number of individuals and special venues. Recently I began teaching a meditation class at the East Bay Meditation Center in Oakland for people with disabilities, illnesses, or other condi- tions that make it difficult to sit with others. The class is called, appropriately, “Every Body, Every Mind.” After fifty years of seeking, I have finally found my dharma home. It was my teacher’s belief that deep jhana practice would enable me to stop experiencing pain as the central reality of my identity. He was right. a dharma interview with one of the retreat lead- ers and found myself sobbing. He encouraged me to use the jhana states as a refuge when the pain became too intense. That got me through the retreat, but it seemed a temporary fix to me. The following year I signed up for a ten-day retreat with Joseph, Guy Armstrong, and Sha- ron Salzberg. By the second day of the retreat, the pain levels were up around eight. I was not sleeping at night. During the formal meditations, I sometimes passed out because of the lack of sleep. I had to stop doing the walking medita- tion. I was perspiring with the intensity of the pain. I noticed people moving away from my chair, which was in the back of the meditation hall to avoid attracting attention. One person even broke silence to tell me I was a drag and shouldn’t do a retreat if I couldn’t do it right! During the time I was in this personal hell, Joseph asked me to speak with a young paraple- gic man. He was carried in and out of the retreat hall and placed on a pillow for the meditations. He used a wheelchair to get around IMS. Talking with him raised all the issues I was experiencing as well. Despite our conversations, he continued to go deeper into depression and finally felt he had to leave the retreat early. Though he said he got comfort from speaking to me and expressed gratitude, I felt profoundly useless in addressing his suffering and my own. Finally, after eight days of no sleep, I crashed and had to call a friend to come get me. I was numb from exhaustion, depressed, and my medi- cation was barely touching my pain levels. This sense of failure made me go deeper in my prac- tice when I returned home. I was determined to find a relationship to my body that was friendly, compassionate, and skillful. I remember one night when pain levels were