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An Opportunity

The morning verse becomes more meaningful with each day I say it. No attachment or ego. Compassion and wisdom. Patience and joy. The words were refined over time as reality became apparent. My mother has dementia. Odds are it is Alzheimer's disease, AD. My father, who died twelve years ago had AD, so both my mother and I know what lies in the future.

A few days ago, when she said she knew something was wrong and what it was, (she regularly has this realization, and suffers with it anew each time) she also said that Dad was fortunate because he did not know what was happening or what lay in the future. She does.

And so do I, the caregiver. To me, right now, this is my most important work—caring for the person who gave me the opportunity to have my life—to learn Buddhism and to practice it while teaching it to others.

The first year I was in Elkhart, I did not give any talks because there were no invitations to do so. As conditions changed and invitations were made I accorded with those conditions. When not lecturing, I had been content. When invitations came and I gave talks, I was also content. This is something Buddhists try to achieve. We strive to accord with conditions and not force things to happen. It's a difficult practice to master, and some days I am much better at it than others!

In writing an email this morning, I realized that another condition had matured. There are excellent books for caregivers, several of which I have just obtained. But my perspective is slightly different. It is that of a Buddhist caregiver with a loved-one entering dementia. My Buddhist practice should enable me to excel at caring for others. Selflessness is what it's all about. After all, the six perfections that bodhisattvas strive to perfect are giving, morality, patience, diligence, concentration, and wisdom. The four immeasurable minds are those of loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. So I should be able to do this—I should be an exemplary caregiver.

But the reality for most of us is that when we practice, we often do so with strangers or with people we casually encounter. It's not that difficult being nice to strangers or casual acquaintances because there is no emotional baggage here. Whatever connections we have with them is from another lifetime, and the circumstances are now forgotten.

Others we regularly interact with are co-workers or friends. But our time spent with them is relatively short. We leave work at the end of the day. After a get-together, we separate. We only need to be patient and caring for so long, and then we can go home and emotionally "put our feet up."

With family members, the involvement usually becomes deeper. But while the connection is close here, we have times apart from those we are related or married to. We leave to go to work. We have separate interests. We have breaks from one another.

And yet in all these situations, how often are we able to react perfectly or with the four minds?

What I have here is an opportunity. An opportunity to repay my unrepayable debt of kindness to my mother. But I also have another opportunity. I have a responsibility to pass on the teachings of the Buddhas. Actually, it is much more than a responsibility for it is a joy and a privilege to be able to teach the way to end suffering and attain happiness. But the possibilities to do this are currently limited. It is difficult to leave for more than a few hours at a time and those times are limited in number. What I do have a great deal of is time, time spent in my mother's home—time at my computer.

And so I write, hoping to deepen my practice and to be of help.


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