lac mahon, la peche, qc.

lac mahon, la peche, qc.
photo by graham law.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Source of Joy.

Walking away from the Wakefield dental office without my two bottom front teeth was a pivotal moment for me.  At first I thought that perhaps I could tell people I lost them playing hockey, only I don’t play hockey.  I thought I could say I had been mugged, again.  Instead, I gave up all hope.  I’m not sure what I had been holding onto so hard, aside from those teeth, but I smiled to myself then.  I let it go.         

Jack Benny once said that advancing in age is a case of mind over matter.  If you don’t mind, he said, it doesn’t matter.  Of course, he was well into his eighties by then.  I was only in my fifties.  And, for the first few moments after my teeth went flying across the clinic floor, it mattered to me.  The world as I knew it had just changed forever.  But, I let it go.  I had to wait a week for the gap to be filled with what they call a ‘partial plate. I had to sit in my shop and smile a toothless smile at all the lovely people, but I let it all go.     
It’s really a process of giving up all hope, of a self-image which is impossible to live up to forever, of holding onto a permanency where it never has been, never will be.  It’s really a process of getting over ourselves.  And that happens automatically to everyone with age.  It has to happen.  Some people age gracefully.  Some don’t. 
My old granddad leaned up against a ledge to rest, as we ambled slowly along the hospital hallway, looked out the window, down at a graveyard far below us and said with a wan smile; ‘Well, that’s convenient isn’t it?’  Then he looked over at me.  ‘Howie, Nathan, Handswash or whatever your name is,’ he said fondly, ‘Sometimes you have to smile even when you’re not feeling it.        
What can help in this process and why we meditate is simply knowledge, an ability to see things as they are, knowledge of what is not permanent and, more to the point, what is permanent.  However, the sort of knowledge I’m referring to is direct.  It’s not theory.  Every thinking, inquisitive human has studied enough Philosophy, Science, and Theology or just thought deeply enough to realize intellectually that there must be a continuum of life beyond our transitory self. 
Meditation is a process of experiencing that continuum directly, first-hand, of experiencing the agency that animates our bodies, the pure essence of what we are.  Then that direct knowledge goes hand in hand with the intellectual knowledge and the aging process.  That’s the whole package.  That’s the holistic knowledge which becomes our rock, our unshakable strength of character.   
I remember just like it was yesterday how I felt upon leaving the Wakefield dental clinic that day as a cold, autumn wind whistled through the gaping hole in my mouth.  It was a strange kind of freedom.  I had embraced my toothless-ness.  It was, after all, likely to be the only thing I was going to embrace for a while.  But, little by little, I began to enjoy smiling a big old smile as people marched through my shop.  I smiled at the brave little girl with no hair.  I smiled at the aged man who was purchasing the carved walking-cane, the young couple in love, anyone, everyone. 
Thich Nath Hanh wrote; ‘Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile.  But, sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.’           

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