A new diagnosis

Noah napping on a pillow

Noah napping on a pillow

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”.

From http://archive.thebuddhadharma.com/issues/2009/winter/alive.php

27 thoughts on “A new diagnosis

  1. Yes…and I’ve done it too…until I get a gentle lesson that makes me smile. Just a few weeks ago, after my elderly mom’s cataract surgery, she had to wear very dark glasses when going outside. I was staying with her and she would put on the dark glasses in the foyer before she walked out the front door. The first time she put them on, she kicked at something imaginary (to me) on the floor and said “what is that”? What, Mom?, I replied. “That blue pillow with the pinecones and fish on it”, she said. There was nothing on the floor. She took off the glasses and “it” was gone. Later that afternoon it happened again. She saw something else that wasn’t physically there when she put the dark glasses on in the house. And yes, it was beginning to worry me and I told her not to put the glasses on until she stepped outside (cause it did not happen in the bright light) and immediately called my sister and asked her to look it up on the internet. Later, as we were again headed outside, Mom put her dark glasses on in the house and before I could say anything to her she said “oh…I wonder what fun things I will see this time”! What a different perspective…she wasn’t worried at all and thought it was fun! The ‘images’ mom saw went away later that day…but the lesson will stay with me much longer…Thanks Mom! Thanks Mary!

    • Loved your story Kathye! Once in a restaurant many many years ago when my boys were small, the waitress came by to gather plates and said to my seven year old, “Hon, are you still working on that?” and my son replied, “Yes, but I’m not working, I’m having fun!” with the two front teeth missing and a big grin. I’ll never forget that!

      • Ahhhhh…the pure innocence of sweet youth and the wisdom of our sweet seniors! Here’s wishing innocence and wisdom to all of us in between. 🙂

    • I think that I would like your mom a lot Kathye….her response to seeing is so light and fun. Thank you for sharing this!

  2. Mary you are always so right on with your posts!!!! My mom passed in March and i so agree everyone just so needs people to act appropriately to make themselves comfortable….you can really see it in the nursing homes…i so appreciated the staff who could live within a sense of humor…so hard to do some days i am sure…if you didn’t laugh you would cry i think…i would have hooted and fell on the floor laughing at what your gma said….i think they feel like that…..love your blog……have a wonderful day!!!!!!

    • Thank you Janette, …I used to be so serious and wanted everyone to take me seriously…now I want to lighten up, to laugh at myself, laugh with others, have others laugh at me. I love the image of rolling on the floor laughing…it leaves me with a smile.

  3. In my humble opinion …we take ourselves and our medical “numbers” way too seriously………. Love your post, and I think your gramdmother….got it. (whatever it is ) ! She was more evolved and further along the path …….I loved her comment and your awareness of the moment!

    • Thank you Sandy, I loved her comment also, and after reading Eben Alexander’s book (Proof of Heaven) I think she just might have been much more accurate than I could have imagined…and maybe having a lot more fun too as she dipped in and out of what we call “reality”!

  4. I adore your grannie’s response to your mother’s questions and topped with a laugh. Talk about radially alive! My mom just had to move to an assisted living arrangement and is slowly, can I say it again, slowly; wait one more time, slowly getting acclimated, I do hope. There is so much there to enjoy and I hope she will see it. I know she will. She has always been able to make the most of her situations.

    May we all get to where your grannie’s mind was in that response and enjoy the road’s moments in a magnificent way. It is so easy to get caught up in our lives acting as dead people. That actuality has surrounded me with sick and dying siblings for several years now, and nothing could help a person more to see the joy of life that needs to be savored day in and day out.

    Thank you, always, Mary, for the heartfelt blog. I love reading you even though I rarely respond.

    PS Happy birthday to me!! I’m going to love the blue skies today!

  5. Thank you for this. As a mental health professional, who bills insurance, I have to give a diagnosis code to bill. It always causes me to twinge. I don’t like putting people in boxes for any reason.

  6. Thank you Mary. Was thinking of you this morning when on my way to work I found an injured dog laying by the side of the road. I had a moment of ambivalence over what to do and thought “What would Mary do?” While mulling this over, he got up and followed me to my truck. I helped him in and brought him to the vet. He is hurt but not seriously – will check on him later this afternoon.
    Then I read your post and thought about the wonderful moment while driving to the vet clinic when this creature looked at me and rested his head on my open hand and closed his eyes.

    • Robin, as one who cries over every hurt animal, I cried less when I read of your caring response to this hurt dog. Do keep us posted. As Susan A. said, you truly did an Angel’s work today.

    • Your story of the dog is such a blessing Robin….and the way he rested his head on your hand brings happy tears to my eyes. Thank you.

  7. This is what I was searching for when I came across the blog at the end of this post.

    “This body is not me, I am not caught in this body.

    I am life without boundaries. I have never been born,

    and I shall never die.

    Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars,

    manifestations of my wondrous true mind.

    Since before time, I have been free.

    Birth and death are only doors through which we

    pass, sacred thresholds on our journey.

    Birth and death are just a game of hide and seek.

    So laugh with me,

    hold my hand,

    let us say goodbye,

    say goodbye, to meet again soon.

    We meet today.

    We will meet again tomorrow.

    We will meet at the source at every moment.

    We meet each other in all forms of life”.

    (drawn directly from a sutra written by the Buddha, pg. 124 in the book, You Are Here by Thich Nhat Hanh)

    • I’m so glad you found what you were looking for Mary, and shared it with us. I have a book of Thich Nhat Hanh poems called “Call Me by my True Names” and it is very very beautiful. Such a gentle warrior full of light and love. For anyone interested in reading more about this Buddhist monk, here is a link: http://plumvillage.org/

  8. Mary, it has been awhile since i commented, caught up in the busyness of life. I treasure each blog post and think of your followers as friends. I just love what you said today, you have become a compass for me. Thank you as always. Blessings to all who gather here.

  9. Mary, I’m having computer issues today which means I hope what I tried to post doesn’t somehow make it’s way twice into your site. What a giggle your grandmother is…you will remember that comment for the rest of your mind-present life. On Monday’s I volunteer for an organization called Telecheck, here in Southern Ontario. We fall under the umbrella of Community Torchlight, in a city an hour away, which is in a mental health service. Privacy is a huge issue but I think I’m able to tell this story. One of our clients was selling his house recently and he has been a widower for some years, is in his early nineties and a going concern still. The real estate agent told him he’d have to clean up his house before it went on the market; he told her that she was going to get a nice fat commission from the sale of his house, she could pay to have it cleaned up. She did. I love people who have a sense of humour and manage, even in old age, to share it with others.
    SandyP in Canada (now I’ll see if this posts)

  10. So glad to have read the second posting also ~the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, whose writings I have treasured. I have come to really “see” that we are more than our bodies, our conditions…. Because I have known and loved and said “goodbye” to a man who was larger than life, who really did live for each single day, who just knew there wasn’t a moment to waste in lament. He would sometimes marvel at what I would find to worry about next! I now know that nothing is as serious as it seems in the greatness of all that is. I love Hanh’s words, how we pass in and out of the doors of life.. ” Since before time I have been free” . So much to appreciate about this blog as a portal to living life more authentically, freely, thoughtfully! Also thanks to all who post ~ such great and thoughtful minds, all of you. And Happy Birthdays, Mary and Susan!

  11. Mary, thanks for your wonderful post and I really appreciated the sutra written by Buddah. Being recently diagnosed with cancer those words were a special comfort today.

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