Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Our Emotional Lives

I did not visit my father in the nursing home over the weekend but my wife, son, and I did take my mother in law out to dinner. My father and mother in law have much in common but are also different. Both of them suffer from some mental incapacity. Neither of them know what day it is unless you tell them and then it seems they both immediately forget once you tell them. Both of them still recognize family members but seem to have no short term memory whatsoever. They live in the moment. They both enjoy visits but I doubt if they remember the visits once they are over. My father will say things, with a very slight smile, that he knows are humorous, but he never laughs or shows any emotion. My mother in law shows little emotion as well but laughs heartily. This makes me wonder if the real death of a person begins when there is no more emotion. My emotions have certainly gotten me into trouble more than once but I like it that I am an emotional person because as long as I have these outward manifestations of my inner feelings I know I am alive. I suppose my father and mother in law still have many inner feelings that their minds may no longer be capable of processing and manifesting on the outside as emotions. How complex we humans are! There are so many parts to who we are and our complete identity is maintained only as long as all the parts are connected and functioning in harmony. Our personal connectedness is then connected to the rest of humanity and the universe.

Zen is doing what you are doing and being where you are. It sounds simple but in reality is quite challenging. Zen is also about balance. This is also very challenging. Keeping all of the different parts of our lives in balance is like spinning five or six plates on the top of long sticks all at the same time. Getting enough rest, doing enough work, but not too much, being with others but also being with the self, being active and being still, enjoying life and being present to the sacred, knowing when to go and when to stop, when to speak and when to be silent is a daily challenge. If your life feels out of balance, it probably is. Life moves fast. Sometimes you must slow down to keep it all from spinning out of control. You can't be present to the moment if you are outrunning yourself. Stop now, close your eyes and simply breathe for a moment. Refresh yourself.

I was having wonderful moments at the monastery long before I started writing about them in my daily thoughts. Now my son is spending a week at the monastery, perhaps sleeping in a guest room used by his father, hearing the same tolling bells with their ancient call to prayer, bathing in the eternal silence that has graced the hills of Nelson County since 1848, quietly sitting in the Abbey church as the monks chant the psalms. Maybe he will come home with a better understanding of the mystery that has been wrapping itself around his father for so many years.

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