One day while I was visiting my elderly grandmother in the nursing home, my mother showed up and immediately began trying to orient my grandmother to time and place; asking those standard questions, “Do you know what day, month, year, it is…”.
At one point my grandmother, who was saying nothing, looked at my mother and answered her questions by the statement, “I have no idea. I’m an alien just recently dropped here.” And she said it with a laugh. I thought that this was one of the funniest things that my traditionally very practical, hard-working, farm-wife, grandmother had ever said, and, I thought that it was interesting. I wanted to know what she meant by this radical statment. My mother, on the other hand, looked horrified.
My mother had been a nurse all of her life, and random, strange, comments indicated a troubled (or disintegrating) brain so she couldn’t laugh along….it wouldn’t have been the correct response,… and she wasn’t at all pleased by my reaction either. You are not supposed to laugh at something bizarre that an old person says or does. You are supposed to look for the appropriate disease that is indicated by this “symptom”, then call the doctor, get tests, and a diagnosis, so we can know what to expect.
The older I get, the more of this I see and hear and sometimes, frankly, it makes me want to scream, “We are so much more than our bodies, our thoughts, our “conditons”…don’t you know who you are?! ” But there is no point in screaming because I’d just be yelling at myself. I do this too.
We box people up, even before they pass on, by needing them to behave within certain predictable parameters to make us comfortable. We look around the room, before laughing at someone’s comment, to make sure others think it is funny too. We don’t want to look insensitive or stupid or clueless. We feel very smart that we can diagnose others, and ourselves, but why? What about dropping the need to box ourselves in? What about a new diagnosis, “Radically alive being, living a magnificent life.”
I was trying to look up a quote by Thich Nhat Hanh the other day, and came across a wonderful page of writing from the Buddha Dharma magazine:
“Albert Camus, in his novel The Stranger, used the term “the moment of awareness.” When the protagonist of the novel, Meursault, learns he is going to be executed for the murder he has committed, anxiety, fear, and anger are born in him. In despair, he is lying on his prison bed looking at the ceiling when, for the first time, he sees the square of blue sky through the skylight. The sky is so blue—it’s the first time in his life that he has gotten deeply in touch with the blue sky. He has already lived for decades without ever really seeing the blue sky. Perhaps he has looked at the sky from time to time, but he has not seen it in a deep way. Now, three days before his death, he is able to touch the blue sky in a very deep way. The moment of awareness has manifested.
Meursault decides to live every minute he has left fully and deeply….He lives his last three days in his cell within that square of blue sky. That is his freedom. On the afternoon of the last day, a Catholic priest comes to Meursault’s prison cell to give him the last rites, but Meursault refuses. He doesn’t want to waste the few hours he has left talking to the priest, and he doesn’t let him come in. He says, ‘The priest is living like a dead man. He is not living like me, I am truly alive.’
Maybe we too are living like dead people. We move about life in our own corpse because we are not touching life in depth. We live a kind of artificial life, with lots of plans, lots of worries, and anger. Never are we able to establish ourselves in the here and now and live our lives deeply. We have to wake up! We have to make it possible for the moment of awareness to manifest….
The teaching of the Buddha tells you clearly and plainly to make this the most magnificent and wonderful moment of your life. This present moment must become the most wonderful moment in your life”.