Archive for December, 2008

Teresa and I drove to Sequim this morning.  Near Blyn we saw fields of grass glinting with a white covering of frost.  The frost reminded me of the crisp fall and winter mornings when I was growing up in Illinois.  I always loved walking in the snow in the woods—everything was so quiet and peaceful.  I felt my worries drop away from me.

Not much snow here!  It probably snows enough for a few inches of accumulation less than once a year here.  Each time it’s happened, we’ve been out of town on a winter vacation.  Maybe this year will be different?

We went to Sequim so that Teresa could be fitted for a new set of orthotics.  I have had intermittent problems with shooting pains in my ankles for several years.  Inserts customized by my now-retired podiatrist solved that.  This year I’ve also experienced some low back pain and minor knee problems.  On a day to day basis, I hardly notice it, but every few months it’s enough that I see the chiropractor.  Since these problems may all be related, I decided to be fitted for orthotics too, replacing my worn inserts.  I’ll get them in two weeks but it may be several months before I know for sure whether they alleviate these pains.

With respect to pain, mindfulness means an objective awareness of sensation and not getting caught up in it.  It means not letting the mind run amok with fear of all the possible consequences of the pain—from “I’ll never walk again” to “I’ll die tomorrow.”  Neither does it mean denying or ignoring the pain.  Both getting caught up in and denying the pain results in suffering needlessly.  The Middle Road would be to take action when appropriate.

The trick is to find that middle road!


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As part of my practice, I listen to Dharma talks.  It’s hard to do that in person, given how far we are from any center.  We are able to have occasional weekend retreats by various teachers—our sangha invites Rodney Smith and other guest teachers for weekend retreats once or twice a year.  For longer retreats, Teresa and I can go to Cloud Mountain or other retreat centers.

On a more daily basis, I turn to Dharma talks on the web. As you might guess from my earlier post about my problems with listening, I find recorded talks helpful as I can listen to them again and again to hear those parts my mind skipped over the first time!

The quantity and variety of talks available on the web is increasing rapidly. Every time I search the web for Dharma resources, I find more sites I hadn’t seen before and existing sites that have more and better organized information. My focus is on Insight Meditation/Vispassana and the Theravada Forest Tradition. There are extensive resources for other Buddhist traditions but this is the one I follow.

The first teacher I sat with regularly was Gil Fronsdal of the Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, CA.  So that’s where I look first for talks, and IMC’s Audio Dharma library is extensive.  The largest online collection is probably the Dharma Seed library, with talks from 1974 to the current time.  The Seattle Insight Medication Society is the center closest to us and they have a collection of talks by Rodney Smith and guest speakers on their web site.

In the Theravada Forest Tradition, the teacher that I have been most attracted to is Thanissaro Bhikkhu of the Metta Forest Monastery.  The monastery has a large collection of his talks, although I prefer the audio quality of his talks in the Insight Meditation Center’s library.

To help people find talks, I have compiled this list of the sites I have found most valuable.  In the list of pages on the right, click on Dharma on the Web for list of sites and links to them.

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The Buddha said: “Let hearing simply be hearing, let seeing simply be seeing, let sensation simply be sensation….”  I find it more difficult to be equanamous about sensation when I consider it to be pain, especially when unexpected.

All the teachers say that the body deteriorates with age, and I know that to be true in my case.  I have proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR).  While there are some experimental medications to treat PDR, the “gold standard” of treatment is pan-retinal photocoagulation (PRP).  Or, in simpler words, blasting the retina with a laser.  Since my body was not responding adequately to the medication, PRP seemed the appropriate treatment to prevent vision loss.

I’ve had PRP twice before, in my right eye.  The first time was several years ago, and I remember some pain.  This  summer, I had further treatment but I was sedated and did not feel any pain.  Today, it was time to treat the left eye.  I think I had grown complacent—I had been through the treatment twice before with only minor discomfort, so I was prepared “to do it again.”  I wasn’t expecting or prepared for the pain.  I noticed that I was strongly resisting the sensation and could tolerate only 200 flashes of the laser (between 1,000 and 1,500 are planned).  Each flash felt like a pinprick on the back of the eye.  I wasn’t centered at the beginning and didn’t even think to try to regain my balance to experience the sensation differently.

When I am prepared for an uncomfortable situation, I at least have a chance to handle it well.  If not prepared, I am more likely just to react.  And reaction usually means suffering.

Further treatment is scheduled for next Monday.  My goal is to be calmer and more centered when the treatment begins, and to let the sensation simply be sensation and not something to recoil from.

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