For the past two weeks, I’ve been staying with my mother at her home as she deals with end-stage cancer. It has been a hit-me-over-the head lesson in the Buddhist concept of impermanence. While I became immersed in this concept while writing FALLING TO HEAVEN, this experience is taking it to another level.
What does impermanence mean? It seems best summed up by something a Buddhist once said, “We are all dying, every minute.” Geneticists have found evidence of this concept in something called telomeres, which exist in our cells and they tell our cells when to stop dividing and rejuvenating our bodies. So we age and eventually die because our telomeres tell our body’s cells, “Okay, pack it in. You’re done.”
My incredibly brave mom has wide placid eyes these days as she contemplates the ceiling and walls in her room and the changes happening to her body. When I ask her how she feels about these changes, she says she is calm.
Her condition changes every single day. When I got here, we went out to breakfast. It’s scarcely two weeks later, and going out to breakfast seems a distant dream now, like a fascinating cultural practice on a distant planet.
These days it’s about whether the food she takes in — a section of an orange, a tiny sliver of cheese on a cracker, two ounces of liquid – will stay in. Often, it doesn’t.
I spoke with a friend who’s a social worker with hospice, and she asked me, “Are you meditating?” I answered, “No, it’s called avoidance, right? Meditation doesn’t let you avoid.”
She said, “Well, you better get started.” She suggested a lovingkindness meditation in which you extend first the positive thoughts towards yourself, and then to your loved one:
May I feel safe. May I feel content. May I feel strong. May I feel at ease.
Then, May she feel safe. May she feel content. May she feel strong. May she feel at ease.
That’s perfect. Because impermanence is happening, whether I’m shutting it out or looking straight at it.
I want to feel safe while I look straight at it. And maybe, my mom and I can help each other feel safe looking straight at it together.