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Buddhadharma : Spring 2011
17 spring 2 01 1 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly consistent attention live around me. In my part of town, bordering on an area with one of the highest homicide rates in the nation, to attend to the folks around me is not just a nice neighborly thing to do, it’s a necessity, even a matter of life and death. It’s clear that none of our homes can be safe unless every home on the block is secure. Of course, the same is true extending beyond the block, to the district, the city, and on and on. We’re all saved or none saved. That’s the bodhisattva ideal, and it’s the reality. On the other hand, if we try to save the big We, we could easily forget the small we. Our tiny slice of the uni- verse, this neighborhood, is manageable—if anything can be managed. From “to Whom do i BoW?” in TurnIng Wheel, summEr 2010 calming The Waves Emotions are like waves, says Sister Dang Nghiem, a doctor turned Buddhist nun. While some come crashing down on us, with practice we can learn to see them before they reach the surface. When I first arrived in Plum Village, I couldn’t recognize the intensity of a feeling until it was right on top of me. It has been over a year since the waves of stories came out of me with Sister Thoai Nghiem. At the time, I could barely breathe as the waves crashed on top of me. We often recognize a wave only when it is at its peak or at its descent. But a wave does not start at its peak or its trough. A wave starts miles before, way out beneath the sur- face of the ocean. When it has enough force and momentum, it surfaces, comes to a peak, crashes, and then it’s followed by another wave. It was like that for me in those hours as I sat facing Sister Thoai Nghiem. I was experiencing one wave after another, and they kept crashing down, overwhelming me and forcing me to recognize them. Many of us experience this in our lives, a wave of sad- ness, a wave of anger, a wave of passion, or a wave of jealousy. There are many waves that we go through in our daily lives, moment erichanson to moment—a wave of perception, a wave of judgment, or a wave of thought. They all build up, small ones and big ones, one after another, and some waves crash with an incredible force, such as the death of a loved one, the breakup of a relationship, or our own imminent death, our final wave. When I worked in the hospital, I met patients who were very sick or dying. Many of them were extremely frightened. They screamed and cursed at the doctors and nurses and the whole world. There were also those who felt dejected and forlorn. They kept looking at the door, waiting for a loved one who never came. Strong feelings arise when we’re sick—even when it’s a cold, a small injury, or a chronic illness, we may experience insecurity, fear, rejection, loneliness, and self-deprecation. With awareness of these waves, we can be present for them and transform them. If we don’t learn to care for them, if we just numb ourselves with medication or entertainment, then when we become very sick and we’re close to the final wave, those things that we haven’t taken care of will surge up and the mind can lose itself, because it can’t suppress or hold those things anymore. I practice recognizing the wave as it descends, so that I won’t be like a drunken person who claims “I’m not drrrrunkkkkk!” or an angry person who shouts “I’m not angry!” I am learning to be more and more aware of the after- math and of the peak. Gradually, I am learning to be aware of the wave before it reaches its peak, and then even before it manifests above the ocean—when the wave is still deep in water, miles and miles back, when it just starts with a thought or a feeling, and when it just starts with an image or a sound. Of course, I’m also learning to appreciate that a wave does not end as it disappears from the surface, but that it will continue on under- neath and build up into another wave. From healIng: a WoMan’S Journey froM docTor To nun, PuBlishEd By Parallax PrEss, novEmBEr 2010