How Frail the Human Heart: A Small Zen Meditation

How Frail the Human Heart: A Small Zen Meditation March 28, 2024

Hieronymus Bosch
Extracting the stone of madness







I’m seventy-five years old.

Among other things this means that these days there are more frequent visits to doctors of several sorts.

This week this specifically has included a visit to a urologist. After some only mildly invasive poking and prodding he told me he wants to look a little closer.

He’s going to use a camera to look around. And we’ll need to set up another appointment for that. I felt things getting a little red around my visual field. I responded, will I be put under for this? He said no. There’ll be a local. It’ll be fine. I said I want drugs. He was surprised. I insisted. He wrote a prescription for a single Lorazepam pill.

Now, I find myself anxious about when to take the pill.

I’m mildly curious about what he thinks he might find. But not at all anxious. Life. Aging. Things breaking down. I’m okay with all of this.

But the procedure, that’s a horse of another color.

When I was on the cusp between childhood and adolescence I first learned what urethral catheterization was. I was appalled. The image was horrifying. I hoped I could go through my lifetime without ever experiencing the procedure. The thought of it all has invaded my consciousness on occasion. But I never had to face the reality.

Well, the time has come. And I am not happy.

When I was in seminary I was introduced to the term AFGE. For the uninitiated it means another fucking growth experience.

I’ve spent my life on a path of ever increasing transparency. Mostly to myself. But as a person walking a spiritual path and a writer, I share aspects of this. Heck, my next book, the Intimate Way of Zen: Effort, Surrender, and awakening on the Spiritual Journey is all about this transparency to the way.

Noticing and letting go. Being present. Witnessing.

All part of what happens because of this amazing gift of our human minds and our strange ability to watch our own mental processes. This is the essence of the path, to not turn away.

And what I’ve found on this journey is that whenever I think I’ve kind of got it down, that I am open much of the time, well the universe steps in and says, you sure kid? And. Well. Cystoscopy. I had to look it up. I avoided pictures. There’s not turning away for you.

I’m constantly discovering the winding of my mind. Discovering the things that I’m gifted with with my birth, the wild collection of perspectives that are rooted in throwing together the genetic structures of two people. Triggered or modified by a life time of experiences. And within this the way of wild openness. Part of it I have come to believe is just the universe experiencing itself. At this level meaning and meaninglessness are irrelevancies. It is all about the great Is. That is the is-ing of the universe. As experienced in this biological form. Leaning into this has gifted me with moments of joy, even ecstasy. But another part of it is the specific corner of the universe that is me. The creature that is the result of genes and experiences. Here meaning and meaninglessness are very real things.

Here in the constant unfolding of myself I think about my really, really not wanting to do the procedure. And, knowing, that of course I will. And watching the aspects of my personality dealing with it. This is connected to that other thing, the universe thing. The God thing, if you like that language. Or, the play of form that is emptiness if you prefer the Buddhist take.

“How frail the human heart must be – a mirrored pool of thought,” Sylvia Plath suggests.  How true, my experience confirms.

Now if a koan is a matter to be made clear, or a direct pointing together with an invitation, well, here I am. Gifted with something to be made clear. It does feel a direct pointing. And, the invitation is in my calendar.

So, a take away? Sure. The path is relentless. If we’re called to it. And I certainly am. There’s a certain ruthlessness to this journey. And, it really calls for some sympathy, as well. A bit of gentleness with ourselves and others is a good thing.

As we turn into the great matter. As I turn. It’s always personal. It’s always intimate. Even too intimate.

Such a strange thing this life.

A world of wonders…


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