When I was a kid I discovered Buddhism. I’d long since concluded religion was nonsense and God a nonentity invented by power crazed weirdos to control the masses because TV hadn’t been invented yet. The certainties of youth are reassuring at the time, amusing from afar. But there was something about Buddhism that touched my black and white heart. I recognised it, felt something truthful in its insistence on letting go, on the importance of the now. In amongst my fantasies, fears, and fatalisms I found freedom in connecting with my breath. I was never a follower, more a fellow traveler. Maybe I knew one day I would have to pull on those ideas heavily. Maybe I knew one day I would need to figure out how to stay in the now when the future terrifies me.
Waking everyday wondering what will work, what won’t, what new ‘feature’ my MS will upgrade me with, the effort to stay with the now is, truth be told, exhausting and often overwhelming. The physical symptoms drain my reserves of faith or the willing suspension of disbelief or whatever it is that makes most of us go through each day as if the future will stretch out endlessly. I swing violently from future faith (get up today you can make it, go on that trip you can survive the travel, take on that challenge you can do it) to crashing waves of fear swamping me in the night as I wonder how much I can manage, how much more I will have to take, how much time I have before that final line in the sand needs to be drawn.
Time flies away so quickly now. The world wants us to stay in the future, striving, doing, plotting, planning. But MS wants to steal all that, compress what could have been into something much less clear, much less leisurely. It’s the special twist of MS and other progressive diseases that it challenges both the now and the future. Even as it drags at me today, it frightens the already weakened me with non-specific threats to the future. A bad couple of nights wracked with spasms and pain and confidence and self belief are dragged into the frightening forest.
But then sometimes, like today, something pulls me back to those days of childhood, to the moments under a tree when the completeness of the universe, the connectedness of everything, the reassurance that this now was all that really mattered held me and soothed away the panic of a young soul in an old world. The first time I heard the mantra Om Mani Padme Hum it rang in me like the Tibetan prayer bells I was surrounded by. I had no idea what it meant, at least in some linguistic sense. But I knew that the sound of it connected me to my breath, and that feeling created a respite, albeit brief, from the constant anxious chatter that filled my head. It works to this day. Life no longer stretches out in an apparently endless adventure. The adventures are still there, but harder now, and dwindling in prospect. But the breath is still there. The universe is still there. The wisdom of Om Mani Padme Hum is still there. I still don’t know what it means. But I know what it is. It is my sanctuary from MS. It is my relief.