"No brain, no lotus" --Judy adapts Thich Nhat Hanh
As some of you know, my 87 year-old mom is losing it.
Once, not so long ago, she was a sharp, efficient, capable person, given to successfully crossed-off to-do lists and ready laughter.
Now she is flustered, anxious, irrational and unable to think through even the simplest challenges.
Which of course is hard to watch, as well as sometimes sad, and sometimes alarming, and sometimes exasperating.
It’s also fascinating.
Because one of the more common myths about dementia is that people just forget things, and otherwise they’re like happy oblivious little kids, unburdened with the basic adult rules of life.
When actually there’s not much childlike about my mother right now. Rather, she is belligerent, stubborn, argumentative and a flat-out liar.
The personality has changed.
As it actually does with us all, depending on context, all the time.
Dementia or not, personality ebbs and flows and adjusts with situations- that's how fluid and not tied to anything real it actually is. The self plays whatever role seems right in each context, making it up as it goes.
Of course most of the time that's not seen.
So what dementia can help to make clear is that the personality, the self, the Person,
Is created by the brain.
Not just housed there, in some amorphous sort-of-head-ish area. but actually created by it.
Because all those formative stories of our past, the ones that supposedly formed and created “Who we are...”
They haven't changed. My mom’s past is still the same past it always was.
Yet now, with that exact same story, she is a new person.
So the past has nothing to do with the self.
And the ego is easy come, easy go.
Which might be great news for the seeker of enlightenment.
Except that ironically, along with the loss of the lifetime-honed personality...
Also comes the loss of the highly coveted awareness that would make a wonderful thing of that ego loss.
Turns out that when the brain is damaged, awareness, and awareness of awareness, go right out the window.
My mom's brain in its current state could no more see through the illusion of self, or experience the spacious unlocatable vastness of consciousness, than it could solve the problem of how to make a return at Macy's.
Take away the brain’s ability to function properly, and awareness is outta here.
Which means they are tied together. Which means "enlightenment" is tied to a non-essential human experience that is dependent on the health of the limited brain.
Specifically the limited human brain. Since only the human species is afflicted with the idea that just being alive is not enough, and requires enlightenment in addition.
I mean awareness might indeed be sitting around waiting for us to be aware of it, to witness it, to transcend the story of self and access something greater than the Me-story...
But even if that's so, thinking is required in order to access it.
So perhaps we might reconsider being in a hurry to stop thoughts, or change them.
Because we need them.
Just as attaining enlightenment needs the meat in our heads.
Because when the sausage is damaged, bye bye awareness. Bye bye transcendence. Bye bye enlightenment.
All of which just confirms what we've heard a million times from a million sources in a million different words...
That what so many seek is not outside, but rather resides literally, right here, right now.
And we’ve already got it.
It's already here.
At least for now.
Meanwhile consciousness, whatever that is, enjoys as good an experience with my mom’s damaged brain as with anyone else’s functioning one.
Fuzziness? Yes. Crabbiness? Yes. Paranoia? Yes. Anxiety? Yes.
This is it.
There’s no right way.
This way is good.
We might enjoy it while we can.
Because sausage doesn’t keep forever.
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"Enlightenment is really nothing more than a simple epiphany, like remembering where you left your keys or realizing you don’t like soft cheese."--Jed McKenna