This post is an excerpt from my August 2018 e-newsletter. Not signed up? Click here to receive updates and musings from me 3-4 times per year.
Do you have a favourite verse or quote? In trying to make sense of my life, particularly when going through something challenging or starting something new, I’ve often relied on the wisdom of a meaningful quote. For example, when I was deep into my treatment for Lyme disease, I kept a quote by psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl close to my heart. He wrote, “What is to give light must endure burning.” I often called this quote to mind on days when I felt particularly wretched. It summoned my courage and strengthened my resolve by reminding me that burning comes before light, and sometimes medicine makes us feel sicker before we begin to feel well.
Now I’ve entered a new stage in my life. Last spring I completed my training in community deathcare (read a blog post about that here). I’ve since begun volunteering with Hospice Care Ottawa. In this new role I’ve been relying on a new quote, a Zen koan:
A monk once asked Bashō, “What is the essence of your practice?”
Bashō replied, “Whatever is needed.”
This is the perfect touchstone for my time at hospice. What do I do as a hospice volunteer? Whatever is needed. Sometimes I rub lotion on a resident’s hands. Sometimes I make bacon and pancakes. Sometimes I meet family members at reception and walk them to their loved one’s room. Sometimes I empty the dishwasher. Sometimes I sit and listen to a resident talk about her grandchildren. Sometimes I sit and watch her sleep. Whatever is needed. It’s important work, but I am not important. If I was important I might see some tasks as below my station. Nothing is below my station. I’m there to do whatever is needed.
And so the circle of my practice widens, bigger than my yoga mat, bigger than my family, bigger than my teaching. It widens to encompass community and service and this new-to-me work of deathcare. What a gift!
Image © 2018 Shamit Tushakiran