Grateful That I Landed Here
by Kim Donin McDonald
When I was 5, my Dad asked me, "What are you most grateful for?" I sat thoughtfully for a bit and said, "That I was born in America." I remember tears welling up in my eyes.
I've often characterized my experience of life as "excruciating." Not that my life circumstances have been particularly painful, but the act of meeting life and staring it in the eye has been like that for me--akin to an open wound or a third-degree burn.
Since I found Zen and somehow summoned the courage to sit with every blasted thought and feeling that arises, something curious has begun to happen. There has been an opening here, a bit of space there. Forgiveness here. Acceptance there.
Two years ago, I told Nyogen Roshi that I felt like I was barely hanging onto the raft, and the raft was careening through the rapids. I love it when he simply nods, a gesture that speaks so much louder than words.
I've experienced a lot of changes in my life this past year. Each time I met those changes without resistance and flailing about, they didn't seem to be a problem. Still, I met plenty of them with plenty of resistance, and that was always when things didn't go so well. I never realized how much I brace myself against life until recently. Like a warrior girding for battle, I make sure I feel "strong enough" before facing a coming emotional or situational storm. But what if I don't brace myself against life? Is there really nothing to oppose?
I'm living in Ventura now, with my grown kids and little grandkids around me every day. I have the luxury and good fortune to be in a position now to pursue an education and eventual career as a Hospice Chaplain, which has been a longing in my heart for many years.
Just last week, I called a local hospice agency to volunteer. I cried tears of joy and amazement when I read the agenda of their first training session for the Vigil Team, of which I will be a part. At the top of the page were the words, "It is a sacred act to sit vigil with the dying. When we bring our open heart and our unconditional loving, everyone is enriched by the experience." Part of the training is "Preparing Yourself--Intentional Presencing" and "The Power of Silence."
These days, I don't feel so much the excruciating part of facing life head-on. Thoughts are incessant and plague me terribly, but I trust my practice. I am learning to accept its fits and starts, and to allow the judgments in my mind to just be there. It's a slow process for someone who has always gone for the quick-fix.
If it were not for the "magic" of the Hazy Moon--Roshi's dedication, and the commitment of every Sangha member--I could not and would not be whatever it is I am today. I'm grateful that I landed here, within this great ebb and flow of Life. Eternally grateful.