Wednesday, April 12, 2017


photo by Jeannie O'Connor

Barbara Gates is a writer, developmental editor,  
writing coach and hiker based in Berkeley, California. 
This site gives an overview of her work, past and present 
— as author, developmental editor, and blogger. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

I encourage you to check out my Tricycle Magazine article, "In the Bathtub of the Masters."  It is an adapted chapter from my book in progress:  Taking a Bath in the Milky Way. This story of fury and love takes place on a three month meditation retreat at the Insight Meditation Society in 1983.  

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Washing My Mother's Hair

photo by Jeannie O'Connor

We have been wandering since beginningless time in these samsaric worlds in which every being, without exception, has had relations of affection, enmity and indifference with every other being. Everyone has been everyone else's father and mother.
                        Patrul Rinpoche, (1808–1887), homeless wanderer

Naked, standing by the tub, my almost ninety-three-year-old mother calls to me from the bathroom. “I’ll turn on the water,” she says, “Please help me take a birthday bath.”
            From my mother’s study, through the open doorway, I see her on the bathmat with her three-pronged cane. Last night I flew in to New York from California for the birthday, just in time, I think, to be able to offer her this. I listen to the thundering of the bathwater, like the bass reverberation of a temple gong. Dating back to my childhood, when she was a slender leggy beauty, I remember my mum taking her bath—head resting on the back of the tub, a warm washrag soothing her forehead, body stretched out, knees bent, relaxed. As I grew up, I would often catch a glimpse of her through a crack in the door. Not to be disturbed. Her eyes closed, her expression—usually animated with extremes of delight, anger, amusement, irony, gratitude—settled into simplicity.

            Now, from my seat on the couch in the study, I appreciate her, standing tall, steam from the tub rising around her. She has a proud posture, lifting her chin and tilting her head. It’s her signature pose. This is my mum. I admire the luster of her silver curls, her slim legs, now visibly veined, but still finely shaped. Her belly is slack with folds of skin, more substantial than in her youth, but her breasts, while looser than before, are womanly breasts, like mine.
             Today is a first, my mum asking me for help with a bath. Now her baths are “overseen by occasional minders,” as she puts it, mostly her dear Becca, seamstress by trade, who’s cleaned her house every other Saturday for years. My mum likes to run the water for herself. But even with handles and protective rails, she fears she’s lost the strength and steadiness to lower herself down or to pull herself up.
            Has she? Or is she simply scared? She’s gone through radical changes since my last visit, just five months back. I run through the list—eye surgery, waning hearing, diminished strength, unsteady feet, sometime confusion and the deaths of five dear friends—several dating back to college—all gone.
             “Ready now,” she directs me, “Stand right here next to me.”
            I step into the bathroom to her side, behind us a photo diptych of her cradling my daughter Caitlin matched by a lookalike image of her grandmother holding her as a baby—generations of mothers and daughters. Steamy heat rises to the ceiling; the mirror over the sink is glazed with pearls of water.
            I sidle up close to her. Okay, I’m ready. Let’s do this. I reach to grasp under her arms. “No!” She shakes me off. “Don’t hold me!” It’s her fierce voice. Alarmed, I jump back. Damn you. I silence my thoughts, purse my lips to contain a rush of hurt. Crazy anger as if from nowhere surges so quickly in me, has for years. Damn me. With years of practice, of vigilance, I have learned to contain it, but not enough. Not yet.
            I torque my attention back to my mother, her effort. She’s concentrating all of her energy, intently absorbed. Challenging herself now to risk the step into the tub, she bends and grasps the handle on the outer side and steadies her feet on the rug. “Just be ready to catch me if I fall.” With Becca, she’s been working on this routine, inch by inch.
             Slowly, she raises one leg and steps into the water, finding her footing on the rubber mat. Leaning in, she reaches with her other hand for the handle along the inside wall of the tub and clasps hold. She cautiously scales the outside wall with her other foot, landing trembling, two feet now on the rubber mat. That tremble frightens me. She grips both handles, leaning this way then that to find her balance. “Oh no,” she whispers. She begins to breathe hard.
            I leap forward and seize her under both arms, holding her up suspended over the water, until she shakes me off again. My jaw clenches. What if she slips?
            “But be ready to hold me up,” she reminds me, “just in case. . . .” Too much. Too little. I don’t know how to do this.
            I readjust my feet so I can keep my footing and lean towards her, reaching out my arms, my hands ready below her armpits. Clutching the rails on both sides, she galvanizes every iota of strength and bends her knees to lower her body down into the water, then with a splash settles her buttocks on the rubber mat. With a jagged sigh, eyes closed, she eases her head against the back of the tub. Gradually, her face relaxes into repose.
            She breathes there for a few moments. “You can leave now,” she dismisses me. “But I thought you . . . that I . . .” A twinge in my chest. Doesn’t she want me to soap her back? But she gestures toward the door to the study.

            I return to the couch. Why this push and pull? What’s going on? I feel somehow off. There’s got to be a way to meet. After all, I too am a lover of baths. I close my eyes. I imagine immersing myself deep in a tub, feel the sweetness of the water, beyond any difficulties, with family, with friends. A refuge for wide, meditative silence.
             Suddenly I get it: for my mum, the bathtub has been an intimate refuge, solitary, yet opening into everything, a place for peace and rest. So different —I have a flash thought—from the rest offered by her bed. For over fifty years my mother’s bed was a shared space of rest, but also wrangle and romance, with her six foot three, 200 pound husband Dillard, who is five years gone. Over the decades of their marriage, this bed was sculpted, his side now sunken in a large body-sized cavity, shadowed and vacant. Yet each bath, freshly poured, opens into a vast newness—doesn’t sag from use or retain the shape of loss.

From the bathroom, my mum shouts, “Barbara!” I’m there fast. She flutters open her eyes. “Afterwards, for the birthday,” she says, “could you wash my hair?”
             “You want me to wash your hair?” I ask, stunned. My whole life I’ve longed for a chance like this.
             “Once I’ve rested a bit more.” She closes her eyes. With a gracious wave of her hand rippling through the bathwater, she ushers me out of the bathroom again. Back to the study. In, out, in out….
Her hair. She never let me touch it. Certainly not wash it. Not brush it. A vivid image comes to me of my young mum at an old-fashioned dressing table, her long hair unleashed from its coiled braid streaming past her shoulders, burnished brown and lustrous. How I pleaded, that little six-year-old me. “Please, can’t I brush it, Mommy? Just touch it?”
            Behind her in the mirror I saw my pinched face with my Dutch boy cut, crooked cowlick and quivery jaw.
            In strode Dillard, her new husband, a tall Texan with a twinkle and a drawl. “Cut off the whole damn mess!” He sidled right in close to my mum, grabbed hold of her hair. He whirled it around his hand, tucked the entire bundle under into a pageboy. She let him do that.
             “I’ll never cut it, darling,” she teased over her shoulder.
            The next afternoon, I came home from school to find her crying in the bathtub. “I shouldn’t have done it,” she kept snuffling. Then I saw the wet ringlets plastered to her head. She ran her fingers through the meager remains of her beautiful hair. I flung myself on the floor, pounding my fists and kicking my feet. She never let me touch it. Now it was gone.

“Ready!” sings out my mom, rupturing my reverie. She asks me to help her out of the tub and, “Then wash my hair. Becca washes it in the kitchen sink.”
             “No reason for that,” I break in, “I can wash it while you’re still in the tub.” Memories of washing Caitlin’s hair when she was little, pouring water over her head, lathering up the shampoo, protecting her eyes. I can be my mom’s mother now. I picture myself kneeling on the bathmat, pouring warm water, sudsing her hairthe tenderness of touch, my hands, my mother’s scalp. Taking command, I tell her, “I’ll use a big pot from the kitchen.”
            But my mother balks. “This is my bath and I want to get out. You can wash my hair in the sink!” Her voice rises.
             Oh no. I don’t want to fight with her. Tears throb in the back of my throat. It would be so intimate to wash it in the bath. My voice rises too. “In the tub,” I insist.
            “No!” she panics, lifting her head, flashing her eyes. “That won’t work!” Her breath rasps, quickening.
            I override her. “I know exactly what to do.” I march off to her kitchen, coming back with the soup pot.
            “But this bath water is dirty!” she argues.
            “Don’t worry, mum,” I argue back. “I’ll get clean water from the sink.”
            This is not how I want to be. I feel a rush of sadness.
            My voice softens, “Please Mum, trust me.”
            I fill the pot at the sink, test the warmth with my finger. I fold the washrag to protect her eyes. But her body shakes, resisting my touch.
            I take a deep breath. I so want to be gentle, and for her to receive my care. I pour a little water over her head and lather in shampoo.
            My mother’s shoulders tense up towards her ears. A high-pitched panic twang comes from her throat. . . .
            I massage her head to soothe her. “Mum, “ I keep repeating, “It’s okay, it’s really okay. . . .” I brush my fingertips along her forehead.
             As I pour the warm water from the pot over her crown to rinse out the soap, the steely strands part, reveal balding pink scalp. This is my mum, vulnerable and scared. She is at my mercy. We both know that.
            I touch her cheek. Never wanted to be rough, to be a bully. “We’re almost done,” I assure her. I so long to connect.
            “Done, at last.” Her voice softens too.
            All that tussle, for what? I chide myself.
            Still in the tub, she reaches out her hand for the towel. I hand her a light blue one, frayed, a small one handed down from her mother. Her face hidden in folds of blue terrycloth, my mother sits in the cooling water, rubbing her hair dry.
            She emerges from the towel, smiling. “I’m ready to get out,” she says.
            And I jump forward to catch her under the arms.
            “I can do it!” she insists. With another burst of power, she clutches the rails and begins to pull herself to standing. Nothing can stop her. Her arms shaking with effort, she wrenches herself to her feet. Her dark eyes glint. “There,” she says as she steps onto the mat. Bright cheeks, silver ringlets, just then, a girl-child. This is a triumph. “So there!” I am struck by how beautiful she is.

From washing bowl
To washing bowl my journey
And just rigmarole!
                        Kobayashi Issa        


Monday, September 29, 2014

A Begging Bowl of Tears

linoleum cut on Combat Paper by Caitlin O'Donnell, my daughter

A Begging Bowl of Tears  
by Barbara Gates  

written in 4/15/14   and published in Inquiring Mind  []
I am now  walking and taking modest hikes   9/29/14

For months, I lived on a crimson corduroy couch in the living room of our Victorian house in Berkeley, California. In a fall from a ten-foot ladder, I’d slammed into the floor and broken both of my heels. Save forays in a wheelchair, I was confined to this couch in our second-floor home, sixteen non-negotiable steps up from the street. Much as I tried, I couldn’t sustain focus on the ups and downs in the lives of friends or the wars and hungers around the globe. My thoughts and conversations devolved to the discomforts in my body, the revolts in my mind. My world shrank.
             One end of the couch pointed west toward the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean, and the other east toward the Berkeley Hills and across the North American continent to the Atlantic. With breaks in both feet, I was prescribed three months in the wheelchair, three more on crutches. Mostly, I was marooned on this couch. I felt cut off from life. And it made me angry.
             On this couch, I did exercises, hooking green Thera-Bands to the coffee table. I talked on the phone to my ninety-three-year-old mother, frail and scared 3000 miles east in New York City; I wrote; I meditated; I read; I edited; I napped; I ran Inquiring Mind meetings; I met with my writing group; I ate with my husband, Patrick; I visited with friends; I conducted Skype interviews; I tried to coax my border collie Roxie to scramble up next to me. In the evening, I snoozed off under a throw blanket, then wheeled myself into the bedroom to sleep. And most days I cried.
Nancy Spriggs, my mother

            From where I lay on the couch, I faced east. That meant I faced the door to my bedroom, and my gaze rose, up, up, up to the oh-so-high ceiling, to meet the alarm—that wretched smoke alarm I’d tried to silence when I climbed the ladder. There it loomed, neutral and unassuming but packing a silent wallop—like Carlos Castaneda’s specter of death over the left shoulder. And below it, I stared straight into the scary space through which I had shot with such force—crack—into the floor.
            One morning I conjured up the ladder fall, framed it with my full attention. I reviewed the sequence of events.
            The alarm blasts staccato. Bolting out of my study/zendo, I chase from room to room hunting the culprit. Of course, the smoke alarm. Not the first time that high-pitched clamor has driven me into a fever. I rush down the backstairs to the yard to fetch the ten-foot ladder, haul it upstairs and shove it below the offender. The blasting is unbearable.
            Bat the sucker down! I’m a run-around-get-things-done kinda gal, just back from my daily hike with Roxie on the steepest trail in the Berkeley Hills. That’s me, conquer a hill, even in a rainstorm.
            In a nanosecond, I’ll knock out the battery. I clamber up the ladder and reach towards the screaming alarm. Just as the tips of my fingers graze the battery case, the ladder wobbles, then tilts precariously. Panicked, I lurch to right my balance. I plunge down and smash into the wooden floor feet-first. A shock jolts through me. The battery plummets after. But the crazed noise persists, metallic bleats now inseparable from the throbbing of my feet.
            Alerted by my crash, our tenants rush up the back stairs to the rescue, phone calls are made to family and doctors. In a pandemonium of tears—of pain and also laughter (I could move my arms and legs, I could see, I could hear, I could talk), I don’t know when the blaring stopped. But at some point I couldn’t hear it any more. In the bedroom, someone had located and replugged the true culprit—a wigged-out carbon monoxide alarm, somehow come out of the socket. All this to quell the wrong alarm.
            As I remembered, shame bucked like a bull. How could I have done this? And beneath the shame, I felt nausea. I tried to decipher the feelings that had propelled me. Anger. Helplessness. Alarm.
            That was it. No matter forty years of meditation practice, when driven by panic, I jump into the fray. Alarm and attack. It’s a way of life.
            Painful to contemplate. As I looked around me, I confronted the damages I’d made when I first navigated the wheelchair—smudged and nicked walls I’d bashed, the scratched china cabinet, the doorsills I’d rammed into as I tried to get from room to room. Had I been using my wheelchair as a tank?
            Another memory surfaced.
            Bathroom or bust. I back up the wheelchair and zoom towards the threshold. Once, twice, three times, each attempt with a fiercer thrust. But with every attack, the wheels spin crazy and the chair jolts backwards. Slowly, I bend down and carefully line up the wheels so they face forward, then back up the chair again and with an intense push, jam into the sill. And again. In a fit of frustration, I wrench my body onto the floor, onto my knees, and crawl to the toilet. When I drag myself back and hoist myself into the chair, I charge backwards, smashing into our precious cherrywood desk inherited from my grandmother. I smack it off its delicate frame.
            I surveyed the signatures of these many tantrums. Alarm and attack. I felt the residue through my aching limbs. This was war on a cellular level, as a way of relating to life. War against things as they are.
Dizzy with memory and regret, I flung myself back into the recesses of the couch and breathed. In the doorway to the kitchen, an apparition coalesced. In his ochre robe, he stood there smiling with his bald head, big ears and twinkling eyes. I knew him well, the forest monk Ajahn Amaro. In the crook of his arm, he held his begging bowl. 
Ajahn Amaro

            I remembered lines of saffron-robed monks walking through Thailand’s country lanes on their alms rounds. The Pali word for alms round is pindapata, “a lump (or morsel) in the bowl.” The monk accepts what is freely dropped in the bowl and, according to ancient tradition, mixed together—curries, cake, mangoes, rice, fish, puddings, noodles—blended just as they would soon be in the stomach, without preference for one flavor over another. This principle is essential to his renunciation.
            From the doorway, the Amaro mirage spoke, “Why not recast your restrictions as renunciation?” He made a broad gesture, taking in the wheelchair, the scuffed walls, me on the couch. “Could you agree to be content with all that gets dropped in your bowl?”
            Unlikely. Wheelchair-bound confinement to the home was stern practice for a jump-up, run-around, hiking maven. My No-Escape Monastery was exquisitely designed—the smoke alarm, the nicked furniture and bashed walls—challenging me to see all that I could not control and how I protested that.
            No dashing out to fetch groceries or a lemon from the garden. No skittering down the steps and hopping in the car to visit a friend, to go to a film or a talk. Not even sweeping the floor, making a meal, reaching for a book on a high shelf…
            Take that bowl and dump it out, smash it on the floor or against the wall.
            Or take a deep breath. This is my life as given. First step against entrenched habits, I had to learn to receive help, sometimes plead to be helped. Oh please could you bring my laundry downstairs to the washer? So contrary to how I wanted to be seen, how I wanted to see myself. Painful to witness the pride I had taken for so many years in being the consummate helper.
            I’m the one who helps—my ninety-three-year-old mom, friends needing rides, my border collie pal demanding a walk, a meal or a scratch behind the ears. I’m the one who steps right up if my daughter Caitlin calls.
            Now, as I sat on the couch and wheeled through my agitated mind, I smacked into other images of me—in which I hadn’t even known I’d taken pride.
             I’m the one who gets a lot done in a short time—leaping up and down the stairs, scaling ladders, digging holes, planting trees. I’m the one who orchestrates intimate dinners and huge parties for many friends. I’m the one who hikes at the front, outdistancing the pack.
             Ha! Can’t do it. Nope. Nope. Nope. Sitting on the crimson couch, I realized how much I counted on excelling at a whole bunch of things I now couldn’t do.
            Could I uproot attachment to these beloved identities? I didn’t know.
            The hardest to uproot was the image of myself as “giver.” Learn to receive, I told myself. I huddled into the couch, slithered down under a throw blanket and pulled it right up over my head. Through the loose weave of the blanket, I looked out toward the kitchen. There he was again, Ajahn Amaro, amicably holding out his bowl, inviting generosity.
            I too had a begging bowl filled with gifts from friends and family. I thought of my friends bringing meals, driving me to doctor’s appointments, walking Roxie. And Patrick’s many midnight trips to pour out my chamber pot. Without complaint, even with good humor. I thought of Patrick, and Caitlin too, cooking, doing shopping, doing laundry, bringing me my glasses, my book, my shoes.
            From under my blanket, I consider the circle of the alms rounds, giving and receiving indistinguishable. The monks are dependent on the villagers for food and the villagers dependent on the monks for spiritual sustenance. Every day monks provide villagers a precious opportunity to be generous. Monks and villagers sustain each other. I identify with both. I can learn from Ajahn Amaro’s graciousness—and receive my community’s gifts with grace. But, what can I offer?
            On the couch with the blanket up over my head, I wept.

Crying has often come when I’ve least expected it, from grief, from frustration, from laughter, from gratitude. Mostly I’ve cried in the midst of doing my most resisted exercises. Not from physical pain. Something else.
            Even after months of healing, having graduated from the wheelchair and regained some attention for the lives of friends and news of the world, I still fought doing these exercises. One morning, I took on the most challenging stretch, against my own vehement rebellion. I sat up tall on the couch, and spread out both my arms. I stretched them as far as possible and breathed as long as I could into the stretch. I relaxed for a few moments, allowing the muscles to loosen, and then spread my arms wide again. Stretch, breathe, allow. Again and then again. Opening my back, opening my chest, loosening what was hurting. With each stretch came a cataract of tears.
            Briny salt tears slid down my cheeks, into my mouth, along my chin, trickling down my neck, pooling inside my collarbones. And with the tears came a tumble of thoughts, disappointments and regrets. Life won’t necessarily work for me the way I’ve wanted it. In fact, it necessarily won’t. In a few years I will be seventy. No longer middle-aged. So much unfinished, so little time to fix mistakes, to offer back. It’s less and less likely that I’ll write a book that’s read and loved and stays in print… that my fragile mom who I’ve relied on for her vitality will revive her old strength… that I’ll mend rifts with friends from long ago, as I’ve wanted to do these many years…
            A lot of hopes to let go.
            Slowly, a sober space opened in my mind—free of jostles and protests, allowing whatever came. It might not be what I’ve thought I’ve wanted. But I could bear it.
            Right then on the couch, I adjusted the cushions around me, straightened my spine and began to follow my breath in meditation. The ticking of the clock over my grandmother’s desk became very loud, the hoot of a train, louder louder louder, then gone. A twinge in my back, a throb in my right foot. Gradually my breathing slowed down. Stillness.
            An image came to me: a begging bowl of tears. Lucent and alive.
            Over these many months, I had filled a begging bowl with my tears. I also could receive those tears. Both giver and receiver, I bathed myself in this cool balm of kindness.
            As I rested on the crimson couch, something mysterious happened. The begging bowl seemed to expand, the tears to flow out, salt tang and limpid, spilling east, over the Berkeley Hills, and across California’s Central Valley to the Sierras and beyond, rinsing the continent all the way to my mom in New York, my East Coast family and once-friends, then out across the Atlantic. The salt sea of tears surged through the Straits of Gibraltar to the Mediterranean where rickety boats heading for Sicily carried mothers in head scarves, clutching their children, a little boy in a life jacket, and a man waving a torn white flag—Syrian refugees fleeing war.
            From where I sat on the couch, the tears also spilled west to the San Francisco Bay, through the Golden Gate and out across the Pacific to the South China Sea and into the Bay of Bengal, to skiffs of refugees headed towards Bangladesh, a man in crocheted cap, an aged woman wrapped in her shawl, a bony child with dark luminous eyes—Muslim Rohingya from Burma, fleeing sectarian violence.
            Tears flooded southwest across the Pacific towards Australia, through the Coral Sea and the Torres Strait to the Gulf of Carpentaria and the Timor Sea out into the Indian Ocean where a boat of Hazaras, Shiite and Persian-speaking people, huddled together, arms protecting their faces from frigid spume, as the boat rolled, wracked by storm. These too were asylum seekers headed for Christmas Island, fleeing persecution and the war in Afghanistan.

May the merit of this practice serve all. Opening to peoples yearning for peace and fleeing violence in our turning world, I am full with grief, and also love. From a crimson corduroy couch in a living room in Berkeley, California, I receive and offer this begging bowl of tears. 

I invite you to watch this video by my friend Mary Quagliata created at the time I wrote "Begging Bowl of Tears"

Friday, November 15, 2013

Vitamin P

Father Sky Mother Earth by Agus Ismoyo and Nia Fliam 

             While I did finally learn how to navigate my wheelchair over the threshold into the bathroom, at night it’s felt like far too much effort to leave my bed even when the urge is strong. I’d have to struggle out from under the comforters, scooching down the bed (no weight on my right foot), lower myself onto the wheelchair, wheel through the narrow doorway between bedroom and living room, and then, making a tight turn to skirt the imperiled china cabinet, execute the perfect “lean-back” technique to scale that challenging sill into the bathroom—all for a simple pee. Far easier to keep a chamber pot on a bedside table and a towel spread out at the end of the bed.  In the middle of the night, if my bladder calls for release, I can lean over, reach for the chamber pot and place it on the towel. Then kind of rowing myself to the bottom of the bed, I can press down my palms for leverage and using the strength of my arms hold myself up over the pot. I can re-arrange my legs and plotz myself down to make a donation. Patrick (o great gratitude) graciously carts away the pot and brings it back clean and available in case the need arises again. The whole process is humbling.
            I have almost always accomplished this seamlessly. But one morning at 5 am when I sat on the pot, I wobbled. It tilted and spilled. Warm urine washed out over my thighs, my nightgown and the bed. Dammit! I peeled off the towel and threw it on the floor, then yanked off the bedspread and the comforter from under me (and over Patrick). Urine had soaked through almost to the mattress cover.
            Patrick was snuggled down under the top sheet; he looked like he was wishing he was asleep. No way I could hop up and clean up the bed, and even if I could manage to gather the sopping bedclothes into a basket, I certainly couldn’t carry them down the steep backstairs to the laundry room.
             I was undone. “Babe!”  I called out, “It spilled….”
            Sleepwalking, Patrick carted out the chamber pot, and fetched me a robe and us a throw blanket, and we bundled up together. Soon, he was snoring. Cuddled close to him—two spoons—I still couldn’t get back to sleep.
Barbara And Patrick dancing at 20th Wedding Anniversary

            By 7:00 Patrick was really awake, and rushing to allay my upset before he had to take off for work, he hoisted the hefty pile of comforters and sheets, hauled them downstairs and put the first load in the washer.
            It so happens that this particular week my dear friends from Jogjakarta, batik artists Nia and Ismoyo were staying with us. 
Agus Ismoyo and Nia Fliam 
They’d generously risen to the unexpected tasks of ferrying me to a doctor’s appointment and transporting me out of the house on exciting outdoor excursions. Thrilled to actually visit some of my favorite haunts, I wheeled (and they wheeled me) at Inspiration Point in the Berkeley Hills and Point Isabel by the Bay while Roxie galloped along, like old times.  But today they too had to rush off to set up for a batik lecture and trunk show. 
            So I was left alone dealing with the unfinished mess of laundry and, what was really hard, thrashing around in an inside mess of self-disgust and shame. Something about the pee, that acrid smell, and the need for help, I had to come to grips with it. I wasn’t just injured. I was old.
            During this whole series of adventures—despite my sixty-seven years, despite having taken a fall and being confined to a wheelchair, I had never, not for a minute, connected my fall or my inability to walk to old age. I barely thought of my vibrant 93-year-old mum as old. 
My mother, Nancy Spriggs in her home in New York City

Now me? So soon. But here I was with a heap of spoiled bedclothes I couldn’t clean up. No way around it—the vibrant phase of my life was over; I was falling apart, on the way towards dead.
            During the day, a few friends passed through, bringing soup, review books for Inquiring Mind and to give Roxie a walk. I disguised my upset enough to casually ask, “Would you mind transferring my comforters from the washer to the dryer?”  or  “Could you possibly take my laundry out of the dryer and bring it upstairs?”
            At dinnertime, our family gathered. As Ismoyo cooked a chicken casserole, the kitchen filled with the sweet/ sour smells of lemon grass and chilies, cardamom, tamarind and turmeric, odors conducive to a fun dinner with people I love. I wished I could restore my balance and humor, but I was holding back my tears.
            “What’s going on mom?” asked my 24 year old Caitlin, heading in from yoga with her mat and water bottle. Rosy cheeks.
my daughter Caitlin when we met up in Dharamshala last January

             And I, “It’s been a bad day.” I talked about the spilled urine, the soiled comforters, the laundry I couldn’t clean up myself.
            “That’s ridiculous, mom,” Caitlin challenged. I watched her wrap her long auburn hair into a coil on top of her head, lean her foot up on a chair, do a calf stretch. “Pee is just such a natural thing, Mom. You know that. It’s all good. Every child I nanny for wets their bed!”
            “Oh God,” I cried, “I didn’t exactly wet my bed!”
            “Well, then what’s the fuss about?” Tough love.
            Then Nia joined in. “Yeah, pee is healthy.  Ismoyo’s brother in Jogjakarta drinks his pee every day.”
            Ismoyo, chopping carrots, corrected her. “Only the first pee.”
            Suddenly we all started to laugh. A wave swelled through the whole group of us, and then another came, like a round. We couldn’t stop. Indeed, what was all the fuss about this marvelous health tonic?  The miserable idea of “old” and “over” summersaulted right out of my mind.
            Drinking urine. Of course. Ismoyo’s story tripped my memory. Back about six years, the Inquiring Mind staff had done an interview with the Thai Forest monk, Ajahn Amaro right here in our very living room when he described this very practice.
Ajahn Amaro
             The whole morning came back to me: how we’d lined up cushions on the living room floor; vases of Peruvian Lilies from the backyard; candles. In filed the monks, bald, smiling, and seated themselves on our cushions in their saffron robes. Before the interview, we’d served them soup and rice in their begging bowls.
            When we questioned him, Amaro, per usual, waxed eloquent. “These are the terms of our renunciation. Your only clothing—discarded cloth; your only food—what gets dropped into your bowl; your only shelter—at the root of a tree; and your only medicine—fermented urine.”
            “You agree to drink urine?” my coeditor Wes []
had asked aghast. “We thought you monastics were renouncing sense pleasure.”
            Amaro laughed. “Sure, It’s actually a very good medicine for preventing colds. As soon as you get a sore throat you take it. In the trade, it’s called Vitamin P.”

Romo Kehilangan Betara Asih  detail Agus Ismoyo and Nia Fliam