“What really matters at the end of life”

Gazos Creek beach, part of Anjo Nuevo State ParkA friend of mine brought B. J. Miller’s “Ted” talk, What really matters at the end of life, to my attention; here’s a little bit of it:

Over Zen Hospice’s nearly 3 years, we’ve learned much more from our residents in subtle detail. Little things aren’t so little. Take Janette. She finds it harder to breathe one day to the next due to ALS. Well, guess what? She wants to start smoking again — and French cigarettes, if you please. Not out of some self-destructive bent, but to feel her lungs filled while she has them. Priorities change. Or Kate — she just wants to know her dog Austin is lying at the foot of her bed, his cold muzzle against her dry skin, instead of more chemotherapy coursing through her veins — she’s done that. Sensuous, aesthetic gratification, where in a moment, in an instant, we are rewarded for just being. So much of it comes down to loving our time by way of the senses, by way of the body — the very thing doing the living and the dying.

“Loving our time by way of the senses, by way of the body” — that’s zazen.

I’ve learned a lot about my body. I’ve learned to recognize the activity of reciprocal innervation, something John Upledger described in one of his books (which I’ve since lost). Here’s my description of John Upledger’s description (from The Mudra of Zen):

Upledger experienced the phenomena of reciprocal innervation personally, as he lay on the surface of a dense solution of salt water in an isolation chamber. When he felt his relaxation was complete, he noticed a slight motion from side to side in his pelvis and legs. From his medical training, he knew that the motion he felt was caused by reciprocal innervation: when the pelvis and legs moved to the left, ligaments on the right side of the torso were stretched, and nerve impulses generated by the ligaments caused muscles on the right to contract; the contraction on the right reversed the direction of movement and relieved the ligaments on the right, yet when the lower body crossed to the right the ligaments on the left began to stretch, until nerve impulses from the ligaments on the left caused the muscles on the left to contract. Upledger watched his lower body shift slowly from side to side as he relaxed completely.

Seems clear to me that completely relaxed activity depends on reciprocal innervation in all three planes, and a lot of my writing is devoted to describing particular ligaments and muscles that reciprocate in each of the three planes.

My big leap forward was applying Upledger’s cranial-sacral treatment method to myself, by including gravity in my experience of where I am and things. When I sit, I become my own therapist, opening joints and stretching fascia and ligaments through simply being where I am.

That’s the way I dance, too. It’s a lot of fun, and I guess you could say that for me there’s a tie-in with the martial arts, in that I learned to dance in the midst of people slamming at Mabuhay Gardens. That others affect the place where I am, is nowhere more apparent than on a crowded dance floor.

A little harder to bring it home on the cushion, and in fact I now rely on the comprehension of breathing in and breathing out that Gautama spoke of to do the heavy lifting. Can’t rely on anything for long, but I’m betting that his “best of ways” can be close to a second skin for all of us who find ourselves “loving our time by way of the senses, by way of the body”.

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