Sunday, 16 December 2007

Mountain over Earth

I wrote this on the 17th of December, and the next day changed my travel plans and flew to L.A. on the 19th. The blog got lost in the shuffle of a full work day, and canceling appointments for the next week, and never got posted. Read on, and perhaps you can understand why...

My father is gravely ill. He’ll be 87 on January 2nd, if he makes it. I’m speaking to him on the phone two or three times a day. My sister is spending most of her days with him, in hospital, and has asked me not to bring my planned visit – just after Christmas – forward.

I love my father. We’ve had our good times and our bad times, but all that has faded into irrelevance long ago. What’s happening right now puts everything we are, and have been, and done, to and for each other, into a different perspective. I feel his love strongly now, and I know he feels mine.

I want him to survive this crisis, and regain a life he can enjoy. I think there’s a good chance of that, though every time I speak to him, both of us know it may be for the last time.

I’m praying a lot, and meditating, practising holding the poignant tension of the moment in my awareness, not shying away from it, trying (and sometimes succeeding) in holding that fine line between numbness, and fear, and the pain of loss, and a sense of desperation because I don’t know what to do, and at the same time know there is nothing else helpful I can do.

A couple of days ago, after a night with the phone on my pillow, waiting for a call telling me the worst, my daily I Ching reading gave me Hexagram 23, Bo; it is formed of Mountain over Earth: one yang line on top, with five yin lines under it. The yin is pushing out the last bit of yang; it corresponds to the time of year just before the Winter solstice – which happens to be right now.

Bo means to carve, or to peel. You’re peeling off a bark or skin, stripping off the exterior, the last bit of Yang, which leaves you naked and vulnerable, exposed to a difficult naked truth. Bo also means to dismember, to slice up; to flay; to be stripped of rank or honour, to be deprived of your rights. Any way you look at it, it’s hard to take, even if it’s inevitable.

But there’s also a sense of carving away that which is superfluous; if you do this, what you don’t need falls away; that is the essence of carving. You can see this in embryonic development: the limbs begin as a generalized stump, which is then ‘carved’ back to form fingers and toes.

Wilhelm translates it as Splitting Apart, Huang as Falling Away, Lynn as Peeling, Brad as Decomposing.

The Decision is short and not at all sweet: Not worthwhile to have somewhere to go. In other words, stay at home, if you have one – and, may I suggest, under the table with a crash helmet on.

The Rogue River Commentary on the Decision says, in part:
To move in enduring ways, then, means allowing the heavy to fall, the old to die, the weak to be eaten and the low to fill up.

And the Great Image speaks of those above being benevolent and generous to subordinates, thus confirming their positions as if building houses on solid foundations.

The whole thing is about how to meet this time of the last dregs, the final ending, and clearing the past to make way for the future. There’s an implication of suffering, and the end of the world as you know it. The Mountain erodes, crumbles, and becomes the Earth – and that is the strength of this situation: Earth accepts everything, and (eventually) gives it back as life.

Anyway, Bo is for sure one of the Death Hexagrams, and I was sure my sister was just waiting until it was morning in California to call me.

That evening, I read a piece by Michael Ventura called ‘Temporary Goodbyes’, which begins with this paragraph:
"Goodbye" is such a temporary word. The soul doesn't adhere to it. Memory subverts the resolve of "goodbye," evoking images of the past beyond our power to deny them. When you're young you think you can leave places and people, but later, much later, you know you never can, you never did, you played with time and space but you never left. And as your friends and family die you discover that nobody ever really leaves. They reach for you and touch you with a kind of stillness, a strange stoppage of time; and from that stillness a gentleness spreads that you never thought was grief, the genuine grief, but it is: a hopeless and gentle and all-enveloping benediction. You feel the dead receive your blessing, and feel that their reception is a blessing upon you; logically you may think there's no afterlife, but something in you insists the dead can hear and even speak. (
The next morning, following my habit of reading a chapter of the Dao De Jing before my morning meditation, I opened to Chapter 38, which includes (in the Feng-English translation) the lines:
Knowledge of the future is only a flowery trapping of Tao.
It is the beginning of folly.
Therefore the truly great man dwells on what is real
And not what is on the surface,
On the fruit and not the flower.
That afternoon, full of dread, I dialled my Dad’s hospital room phone, expecting him not to answer. But he did. We talked. I told him that my son – his only grandson – was confident he would recover. He replied, his voice muffled by the oxygen mask, a series of staccato gasps:

used to be
I’m not
and not
I’m just

I am in awe of his strength, and wish he did not have to suffer so much.

I feel held in the web of life, which is turning its dark face toward my family now, as it is turned toward many families now, and know that all of us – all of life, human and non-human – all of us are held.

As of this writing, my father is still alive. And I’m still praying.

And as of THIS writing, on the 30th, my father is STILL alive, and I'm spending every day with him. Of which, more soon....

Meanwhile, I wish everyone an abundance of blessings in 2008.

1 comment:

Hilary said...

Dear Cesca,

I'm so glad for you that you've Stripped Away all the inessential, extraneous 'stuff' and reached the living heart of the relationship in your father's lifetime. One of the gifts of Hexagram 23 is that at the heart of things, there's nothing whatsoever you ought to be doing.

Thinking of you,

I Ching with Clarity