Practicing with what’s in front of you

Mary Grace is a long-time Dharma student and friend of Sravasti Abbey. She is a teacher as well as a wife, mother, and grandmother, with three generations living in her home. She wrote the following in a letter to the Abbey.

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  • Moss and Mary Grace in front of one of the Abbey altars.

    Moss and Mary Grace at the Abbey. (Photo by Sravasti Abbey)

    When I take the bodhisattva vow, recite the "Eight Verses of Mind Training" and many of the dedication verses, at times I feel pious, or like a well-intentioned, liberal philanthropist. I will do this because it is so meaningful, deep, moving and spiritual. Yet, when something is in our face, in our lives and in our homes, the self-centered thought says, "What?! Not this! I can’t possibly deal with one more thing." We know there are many workshops out there on happiness, soul reflection, enhancement therapy. There aren’t many on suffering.

    So why am I writing this?

    My husband Moss is quite sick with MRSA cellutitus, a dangerous staph infection which has manifested on his face. It looks like his skin is burned and it’s oozing pus. His first diagnosis was eczema, then impetigo. Then the night before last he became so sick he passed out and fell down the stairs, cracking his skull open. At the ER the doctor said that he has MRSA cellutitus. 26 staples later, and a day of intense drip antibiotics, he is home. And very sick. I may take him back in tomorrow.

    My mind. Where is my mind? At first, I couldn’t focus, but soon Shantideva’s verses came to me: "May all beings everywhere, plagued by suffering of body and mind, obtain an ocean of happiness and joy by virtue of my merits." "For as long as space endures, and for as long as sentient beings abide, so too will I remain to dispel the misery of the world." And then the thought, This means now. Bring it on. May no one suffer, and may I continue to practice despite my self-cherishing thoughts.

    In the hospital with Moss, then home to clean up the blood and the pee of our dog Luna, and comfort the family. My first thought after cleaning up Luna’s pee was, "We need to put her down, I can’t possible deal with a dying dog on top of all this." About two seconds later, I began to laugh. Not a chance. Not this time. Nope. This is the real thing. Bring it on.

    Next morning, my teenage daughter Emma is tired and sore from her Lyme’s disease; my granddaughter, Lily is crying because she is sad and scared about Moss, and my daughter Jess needs to go to work.

    I took Luna for a walk. I saw in my mind, the Abbey, and heard you all chanting. Venerable said, "It’s time to chant. You can do it." In my heart I felt lighter, more open. The chanting is about opening to this moment, to this suffering, to this life.

    One moment at a time. Moments can be amazing journeys. Being with what is in your face gives you no time to be preoccupied with your own face.

    Visualizing helping all those around me and all beings needing love, comfort and help fuels my practice. Yes, it is difficult, but not hard. What do I expect? For years I have been reciting verses to be able to compassionately take on others’ suffering. Now comes the practice. It’s so much easier when things are "fine." But, it’s been a long time since I have experienced "fine." The difference now is that I am not searching for happiness outside of suffering. It is the same.

    I hold all of you in my heart every time I sit on the cushion, or do what I do to help my family and neighbors.

    Please hold Moss in your prayers. And know that I am so fortunate to have true refuge during this time.

    May we all continue on the path with dedication and focus and accept what is in our face.

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