Sweating Towards Enlightenment

buddha beats strong guyStrength does not come from physical capacity. It comes from an indomitable will.
—-Mahatma Gandhi

“You look upset!” she observed as I trudged into her office.

Fidgety and on the verge of tears, I slumped, exasperated, onto my spiritual director’s couch. “Yet again, I feel like I’m sputtering with everything– building my counseling practice, my daily meditation…” I paused and grabbed a tissue. “Even hospice volunteering is losing its luster…”

This was not the first time Karen had listened to my lament. However, as always, she patiently listened to my rant and after a few moments, leaned forward, curled her hand under her chin and asked:

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Fated for a Family

The journey began with a humble prayer. “G-d… please let our cat and dog not only tolerate each other, but grow to love one another.”

As I wrote in Fated for a Feline, living with – let alone worshiping – a cat was something I never expected, but I fell deeply in love with a cat named Bodhi. So when my significant other, Andy, and I decided to move forward with our long-delayed plan to get a canine, my obsession with finding the perfect fit for our sweet, gentle kitty overrode all else.

After much discussion (and more than a dollop of self-imposed guilt), Andy and I concluded that despite the fact that we wanted another rescue, we were unwilling to gamble with the tangle of unknowns and would, instead, go with a dog breeder.

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The Jagged Edges

He was just south of 40 and dying quickly of a messy cancer.

I was a volunteer hospice caregiver at the hospital where he was to spend his final days. My manager had told me he was from Texas and my parents were too. I looked forward to meeting him.

When I entered his room his back was to me and he seemed to be staring vacantly out the window. He was a lanky man with a head of disheveled, sandy-colored hair. I introduced myself and asked if he wanted a visit. He spun around in his wheelchair.

“Sure,” he said. “It would be nice to have some company.”

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Dementia: Friend or Foe?

Dementia. It terrifies me.

My grandfather died of Alzheimer’s and while I was too young to remember the details, I began to understand the torture of watching a loved one’s mind slowly fall away when I saw the pain in my father’s eyes.

Now, as a hospice caregiver I am reminded of that look as I watch myself dance with death, dying and uncertainty. It is a challenging, humbling and powerful teaching on impermanence.

For some months I have had been visiting “Lisa,” a resident with advanced dementia. Lisa is a petite Asian woman in her 80s with glossy jet black hair punctuated by a few strands of grey, sparkling cat-eye lined eyes, and a smile devoid of most teeth. Lisa was once a classical singer in her native Korea and still carries the poise and dignified elegance associated with the craft.

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My Left Hand… An Unexpected Teacher

Not long ago, I participated in a writing workshop. Having recently published a piece on a health scare I’d experienced about a year ago, I wanted to further hone my writing skills and continue sharing my prose, even if I did not feel totally confident doing so. Little did I know the impact that a simple writing exercise would have on me.

Fated for a Feline

I have never been a cat lover. Honestly? Not even a cat liker.

It goes back to when I was 10. As my best friend’s grey feline sunned itself lazily by the pool, I attempted to cuddle it. Upon being lifted, the cat promptly hissed and dug its claws into my wrist, leaving a generous trail of blood flowing down my arm.

I have always been a dog monogomist – an especially interesting contradiction considering my last name is Katz. Ardent cat lovers have pointed out this karmic connection throughout my life.

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The Mystery in Death and Life

I often dance with mortality and mystery as an interfaith spiritual director and companion to the dying at Zen Hospice Project, which trains volunteers to practice these Five Precepts Of Hospice Care developed by its founder:

1) Bring your whole self to the bedside.

2) Welcome everything, push away nothing.

3) Find a place of rest in the middle of things.

4) Cultivate “don’t know mind.”

5) Don’t wait.

Years ago, as a new hospice volunteer and spiritual director overflowing with compassion, openness and newly acquired skills, I was excited to practice all that I had learned, especially the five precepts.

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Brushes with Mortality: 5 Lessons On Dealing with Hard Times

When we come close to those things that break us down, we touch those things that also break us open. And in that breaking open, we uncover our true nature. –Wayne Muller

As someone with a serious chronic medical condition, I have danced with mortality. Many times. It wasn’t until our most recent pas de deux, however, that I truly understood just how much this dance could impact me.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in my work as a hospice volunteer.

The mission of the San Francisco-based Zen Hospice Project — a Buddhist-inspired organization where I have volunteered for five years — is to bring kindness and compassion to those facing loss and death. I trained to be a volunteer out of a deep longing to explore and evolve my comfort level with my own illness and mortality, as well as the mortality of those close to me.

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