May 07 Newsletter » Work Practice
Robert Chodo Campbell
As I sit with Ann, I can’t help but think how lucky I am, to be doing work that I love and am nourished by.
Ann is dying of cancer. Before she dies, she would like to learn how to meditate. She believes it will help her in the final stages of her life, especially at those times when the morphine hasn’t quite kicked in or when she starts to feel frightened. Ann has worked in the medical field for many years so death is no stranger to her. We have had four meetings so far: I go to her apartment and we simply start a conversation. To anyone who is unaware of Ann’s situation, we could be just a couple of friends chatting, about theater, food, the movies, but for Ann there’s not much time for small talk. She says somewhat ironically “We’ve got a lot of work to do, Chodo, let’s get to it."
Our "work" is around death and dying. To begin our meditation, I ask Ann to find a position that is comfortable (today she is carrying twenty extra pounds of fluid that has to be drained through a tube inserted into her stomach every five weeks) so sitting comfortably for her is lying back in a chair. We are using guided meditation, which is pretty much dictated by her mood or physical condition on the day. “Imagine each breath as your last, savor it, feel it entering your body, feel how it is to be alive in this moment. This very moment, Ann. Now as you exhale, know that each out breath is a mini death. Try to be fully present to your life, Ann, time is running out."
When we are in the Zendo fully engaged in samu we are fully engaged in life, moment by moment, but we are also dying moment by moment. Can we be fully engaged in this practice? Each inhalation life, each exhalation death. Each wipe of the dust cloth, each sweep of the broom a step closer to the inevitable. In our culture, we work and expect to be paid for our endeavors. I receive no money for my work with Ann. The merit for this practice is not quantifiable. Dana, the generous act of giving of myself whole-heartedly is the reward. The next time you chant the work gatha, chant with all sentient beings, chant with Ann.
Robert Chodo Campbell is a Chaplain Priest and a student of Enkyo Roshi.
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