My Practice and Mu
Rev. J.J. Kyoji Anderson
Since I can remember I have always called my mother Mu. It was not until I began to practice Zen that I learned that Mu is the core of the teaching. In keeping with the teaching, Mu is the topic of this article.
My mother and I have always been very close. As the years have passed, I find our roles reversed. I am now the one taking care of her, which can be difficult at times. Those difficult times make me extremely grateful that I have my practice and they deepen it as well.
In medical terminology, my mother suffers from agitated dementia, which I observe progress from day to day. This can be very painful to be around, and sometimes I am simply not up to the task.
There’s a lot of history and baggage in my relationship with Mu. I work in a hospital and in some respects it is much easier caring for patients than caring for her. I don’t have the attachment to my opinions about how I think they should be or act, as I do with my mother. I am better able to see patients as they are and act in whatever way the circumstances require.
But getting back to my mother: every day I watch her get angry with herself for not being able to remember, and then the anger spills out on anyone around her. At other times she can become extremely anxious and afraid, which seems to come out of nowhere. Amazingly the next day, she will be more what I perceive as “normal and like her old self.” Her mood swings are very exaggerated and I never know what to expect. Can you see where this is leading?
Of course, I want to hold on to her “good days” and to change the “bad days.” But I can do neither. In order not to feel like I am hanging on to the end of a pendulum getting dizzy from her frequent mood swings, I try to stay in the center--just do my practice. I watch the anger come up when things are not as I think they should be; just do your practice. Sometimes I am acting as if and other times I am able to act in accord with the present moment without attachment to outcome. This place is where I want to function. It is only this place where I can be of any use. This is not an easy task--simple but not easy.
It is very hard to watch someone you love so much suffer so deeply. The first noble truth is not called the first noble truth because it is just a theory. Despite her dementia and my delusion, both my mother and I are acutely aware of her suffering. She sees her situation. She is losing everything and she’s painfully intimate with that fact. She can do nothing to stop or even slow the process. She has said to me, "I am losing my mind, why can't I just die?" All I can do is hold her and tell her I love her. Then I go home and cry.
On occasion, when I am open to the present moment, I have experienced the arising of selfless compassion with Mu. When this occurs, I know exactly how to take care of her. But there is nothing to know really, the path is clear.
Take last Sunday. It was really just an ordinary day, but for me it was perfect, dare I say blissful. It went like this. I picked Mu up at her place; we went to Buster’s and ate lunch outside with the dog. Then we went grocery shopping and came back to my house. She took a nap while I did some cooking. After she woke up, she helped me wash and prepare some vegetables, and then I drove her home. As she hugged me goodbye, she said, “I had a really nice time sweetie, I love you.” I said, "Me too Mu."