Friday, May 20, 2011

Songs and Dreams

I drove my Dad to the blood doctor's office. I turned the radio to an oldies station and his eye lit up. 'Oh yeah!' I asked him if he recognized songs and prodded him to sing some of the lyrics to "Let the Sun Shine In," Paul Simon's "50 Ways to Leave Your Lover," and Bob Marley's "I Shot the Sheriff."

I parked the car and wheeled him out into the sun. We were early so we circumabulated the doctor's coral pink office building. Then we went inside. The waiting room was completely empty. A nurse was reviewing a lunch order from a delivery man. I spun the wheelchair around and sat down next to my Dad.

We got an open room, but they were almost all open. I've never been in an doctor's office this empty of patients. I guess people don't like to have their blood taken on a Friday afternoon.

The nurse tried to withdraw blood from my Dad's left arm. I warned her that his blood doesn't flow easily. It's think and stubborn. His Polysythemiavera (red blood cell cancer) has made many nurses give up. The blood is like heavy, north sea crude oil. After two different nurses they left hopeful that the few drips they got were enough.

I took out my dharma homework and thought it would be a good test if I could explain what I'm trying to learn to my Dad. They say the best way to learn is to teach.

They say there are five heaps: stream of consciousness, other factors, discrimination, emotions/feelings, and physical body. I was reading last night that it really is a break down of the process of discernment and comprehension. The first thing we do is just consciousness or an awareness. The second thing the mind does is initiate with that awareness, moving toward or backward away from. Essentially it's a movement of the mind. The third step is perception, separating one object from another. The fourth step is feelings and having a like or dislike of the feeling. And the final thing is the form.

I tried to explain it to my Dad like the songs on the radio. There is a bunch of noise going on. I turn the radio to an oldies station. The mind is conscious of a noise. But there's numerous noises and sounds going on: the car engine, the static, the outside world, his breath, my breath. Second step is that the mind moves toward the sound. The third step is that it isolates the sound and recognizes it as a song. The fourth step is that it is pleasing to the ear and we begin to figure out what the song is exactly. The fifth step is to realize it's "I Shot the Sheriff." I told him that the mind is doing that all the time: being aware, moving, perceiving/isolating object, liking/disliking object, and putting it into a form or construct.

He nodded his head vigorously as if to suggest he understood. I went on to explain that each one of these steps is completely empty. Each step is dependent upon what I've loaded into it. The space that allows for 'the loading' is emptiness. The white screen on which the movie of my life plays on is emptiness. Each one of those steps is 100% empty. I compared it like Geshe Michael Roach has in the past to a stapler and the loading part where the staplers go. That emptiness is that loading space. It's always there but it doesn't grow or shrink. Once the object is destroyed then the emptiness goes out of existence. The songs that stop on the radio have their own emptiness. Each song is an aural constructed object. It's a series of sounds that the mind constructs as 'song.' Each song is empty and some people love the song while other hate, while still others don't even see it as a song. It's form is empty. A fly would just see it as noise and possibly a giant bee or bird buzzing nearby and run away. An angel would hear the pure nectar of a heart song. Once the song stops, the emptiness of that song just goes out of existence.

He appeared to respond to this and understood. Then I moved further and said that these functions are probably best noticed when going to sleep or waking up. When going to sleep the reverse process happens. The forms begin to melt, blend, the noises and shapes soften and smear together. The feeling is pleasant and my mind wants to stay there. If it's unpleasant then I shift around, plug my ears or do something to get into that 'softened' space. Next the pleasure of falling asleep, then the perceptions of 'falling' asleep begin to melt, the mind moves in from outerspace, then finally just a consciousness of light fading. Then darkness.

Of course, once asleep a whole new series of mental functions start. But when waking up, the mind starts with the first heap of consciousness. A small light or noise off in the distance. The light grows but I still don't know my name, my place, the universe. But I'm moving toward this sun rising which is the second heap. The perception of 'sleep' returns and I realize I've been asleep. I begin to wonder how long, and piece together my location in the smallest sense: I'm in a bed. The location expands, walls, floors, Miami. Home.

I feel the need -out of habit- to get up. I fight off the discomfort for the long-term pleasure and arise. I look around and take in my world and the millions of constructs. My glasses go on and I sit up. The five heaps have returned.

But if each of those heaps are empty then they can be manipulated. My Dad seemed to understand this really well. With his health 'appearing' to be in decline the last few years, one positive side effect is sleep. He used to have serious problems getting a few good hours of sleep. Now he closes his eyes and is falling into sleep within a few seconds. No one falls easier than him. His vision is limited, but in sleep I wonder what he sees? Surely his vision is 20/20, his body is restored to full health, he is reliving some wonderful dream or nightmare. But do the constructs still work in dreams?

A week ago my mom said "I wish I could know what he was thinking." I'd add an addendum to that: I wish I could know what he was dreaming.

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