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Mindful : June 2017
We think we need the conditions of our lives to reliably give us what we want. But we know it will all break down. hemophiliac father who had contracted the HIV virus from a blood transfusion. Years before his illness, he had disowned his gay son. But at the end of life, father and son were both dying of AIDS, lying next to one another in twin beds in a shared bedroom, being cared for by Agnes, the father’s wife and the son’s mother. For some, dying was a great gift. They made reconciliations with their long-lost families, they freely expressed their love and forgiveness, or they found the kindness and acceptance they had been looking for their whole lives. Still oth- ers turned toward the wall in withdrawal and hopelessness and never came back again. All of them were my teachers. These people invited me into their most vulnerable moments and made it possible for me to get up close and personal with death. In the process, they taught me how to live. When confronted by such harsh realities in life, or even some small discomfort or inconve- nience, our instinctive reaction is to run in the opposite direction. But we can’t escape suffer- ing. It’ll just take us by surprise and whack us in the back of the head. The wiser response is to move toward what hurts, to put our hands and attention gently and mercifully on what we might otherwise want to avoid. Once I was speaking to a group in a rural area in the Pacific Northwest, and we began talking about the possibilities that arise when we stop running away from what is difficult. One of the attendees, a burly middle-aged man with broad shoulders and an even wider smile, spoke up. “That reminds me of telephone poles.” I didn’t have a clue what he was talking about. “Telephone poles? What do you mean?” I asked. He explained that he once had a job installing telephone poles. “They’re hard and heavy, stand- Frank Ostaseski is a meditation teacher who cofounded the Zen Hospice Project. In 2004, he went on to cre- ate the Metta Institute to provide innovative educational programs and professional train- ing to foster compas- sionate, mindfulness- based care. 74 mindful June 2017 insight