Mary Grace has been practicing the Dharma for many years at Dharma Friendship Foundation in Seattle. She developed a brain tumor that required surgery. She and her husband visited Sravasti Abbey before her surgery to reaffirm their Dharma connection, and here is a letter Mary Grace wrote to the community a few days after the surgery.
Dear Dharma Friends,
I am so thankful to all of you for all your prayers and dedications through the surgery and during this recovery.
I wanted to share with you my experience regarding the power of intention and motivation. Several friends had told me about their experience of being under general anesthesia, saying that they had no recollection of the time during surgery. I thought about this, and how this must be somewhat like the bardo, the intermediate state between one life and the next. I had no idea what was before me, but I knew that I could set a very strong and clear motivation during the time leading up to surgery. So I thought of all the people in the world who had head injuries but lacked pain relief and hospital care. Reciting the four immeasurables, I imagined human beings who faced illness and injury alone and without Dharma practice. Again and again I thought to myself, "May they be happy. May they be without suffering. May they never be parted from precious spiritual teachers."
I do not remember coming out from surgery. My Dharma friends, Julie and Leah, were there when I woke up. Julie said the first thing I asked was "It is over?" and then I began to recite over and over, "May all beings be happy." I do not remember any of this, but I do recall feeling so happy to open my eyes and see my Dharma friends. As far as I knew, I was in the bardo and I felt total joy and bliss.
As I share this, I am moved by the loving guidance of my teachers. I thought of Venerable Thubten Chodron and could hear her say, "Set your motivation." I didn’t know what to expect, yet I gave everything I had the few days before surgery. I placed my trust in her lap. I went in thinking that I could die, or come out with severe motor impairment. Today I am still alive in this reality with a precious human life.
I wanted to share this because through all of these years we have all heard about setting strong intention and motivation. Previously, I thought I understood it. I’m not saying I do now, but I do know by coming through this experience with five hours of no recollection of consciousness but hours of strong motivation, that setting a strong virtuous motivation helped me come out on the other side. The hour of death will be different. But I can hold onto this experience and know that if we set our heart and mind for a strong altruistic intention, it comes through to whatever reality ripens.
My pain level is tolerable and perfect for practice.
I love all of you. This experience has deepened my trust and faith in the Three Jewels.
Thank you to all—especially to Venerable Thubten Chodron for her tireless guidance and constant reminder to "set your motivation."