Tuesday, July 25, 2017



Gel bracelets, or jelly bracelets are an inexpensive type of wristband often made from Silicone. They come in a variety of colors, and several can be worn on each arm. They have been popular in waves throughout the Western world and elsewhere since the 1980s. One style of these wristbands, known as "awareness bracelets", carry debossed messages demonstrating the wearer's support of a cause or charitable organization.

Maybe I went to see my neighbor. Maybe an elderly neighbor. Maybe my classmate from grade school. Whatever. Obviously I don't really want to reveal the reason but no maybe's about it, visiting the local nursing home  is never anything but  an occasion to participate in Buddhist/Hindu practices of Impermanence-R-Us. And revealing that my friend, my age is there with dementia is not an easy reveal. Not Maybe!! She is.
But always the spiritual seeker, I factored in and thought: isn't it true that Gurus/Rishis/Rimpoches/Lamas and aware spiritual teachers would send their chelas to graveyards to accelerate the student's focus/concentration/practice and dissuade clinging, desire and attachment to this mortal coiled body? Some charnel grounds were more Hollywoodesque than others, that is, in Tibet, nuns and monks would sit with the dead's severed body parts cut into smaller bites so the vultures would have an easier feeding frenzy. This nursing home was none of that, not a charnel ground but it was not the site of a girl scout sing along. It was a nursing home.


The majority of Tibetan people and many Mongols adhere to Vajrayana Buddhism, which teaches the transmigration of spirits. There is no need to preserve the body, as it is now an empty vessel. Birds may eat it or nature may cause it to decompose. The function of the sky burial is simply to dispose of the remains in as generous a way as possible (the source of the practice's Tibetan name). In much of Tibet and Qinghai, the ground is too hard and rocky to dig a grave, and, due to the scarcity of fuel and timber, sky burials were typically more practical than the traditional Buddhist practice of cremation.

Although I pride myself on my ability to wear death on my left shoulder as Don Juan suggested in his Yakui Way, it is never really easy for me to witness, pass by, observe or try not to see toothless mouths open for air or a liquid meal; it is never easy to see anorexied elders cemented to wheel chairs or oversized lazy-boys; it is never easy to see elders silenced by off the chart medications or a big lunch; it is never easy to see the forgotten rehearsing death while maintained by harried, phone answering/poorly paid CNA's running down the hall to bring life back to one of their "residents" who might need to be toileted, fed, picked up from the floor, medicated, hoyer-lifted or turned.
Although I am always burning these scenes into my memory to be re-dreamed at night, prayed about at prayer, re-alchemized by video, re-told as written memoir or simply forgotten, I can never really disregard the images. One of my most burned into memory pictures is of the "tribe" of residents 3 feet from the circle-nursing-station, vying for added attention and never really watching the old movies projected from a neck-hurting high video screen...movies from the 30's and 40's when 40 women swam in swimming pool unison and men smoked Camels; movies that would bring the comfort of having ecstatically lived. At that scenario, always there would be an elder who wasn't drowsing, drooling or watching but calling Ma, Ma, Ma or Nurse, Nurse  sonically and loudly, touretting it over and over before their voice of impotence was transformed into  tearless, whimpering coughs in the pillow at night. For some that Final Silence would not come for dozens of years; years without hugs, cards, Domino's Pizza, beer or an ocean swim.


Nursing facilities offer (by county planning process) the most extensive care a person can get outside a hospital, if one discounts regional medical centers, alternative programs in the community (sometimes now, medical homes, and 24 hour care programs), and the newer assisted living facilities. Nursing homes offer help with custodial care—like bathing, getting dressed, and eating—as well as skilled care given by a registered nurse and includes medical monitoring and treatments. Skilled care also includes services provided by specially trained professionals, such as physical, occupational, and respiratory therapists.
The services nursing homes offer vary from facility to facility. Services can include:
  • Room and board
  • Monitoring of medication
  • Personal care (including dressing, bathing, and toilet assistance)
  • 24-hour emergency care
  • Social and recreational activities (posted schedules)
Always swayed by seeing, I remember that I am mid 70's and am noticing people there younger than that! People who maybe did not injest glycophytes or antibioticed milk as I do; people who bought Organic chicken and  swam in private salt water pools as I don't; people there who watched the fecal count at local lakes and were well versed in the consequences of swallowing dirty water into their lungs. I do/don't. People there who knew about dry drowning. That is, people who once ate well, exercised, were professionally competent and now were the players in the dastardly days before the Endgame.
But I wasn't there to think about death but to see my classmate, now swept into delta waves way too early and silenced by her own mind-memories/drugs ordered by the medics in charge; silenced by her inactivity but most of all by an inner/secret desire to leave her unmendable nightmare?

I previously said I didn't want to see but I did see too much: the walk from the entrance door to my grade-school classmate's "pod" went past a 100 square foot dining room that encapsulate all of the best site specific qualities of a Bergman film, a scene richer in theological teachings than a $550 a week Tibetan teaching on Phowa and Chud.


Phowa has many different meanings; in Tibetan it means "transferring consciousness." The highest form is known as the phowa of the dharmakaya which is meditation on the great perfection. When you do Dzogchen meditation, there's no need to transfer anything, because there's nothing to transfer, no place to transfer it, nor anyone to do it. That's the highest, and greatest phowa practice.

When my inner and outer time stands still it's usually an indication that I am getting my money's worth. It indicates an Ahaa moment. And that day was a money's worth day because I got to look but not look because staring would be a sin and allowed only in zoos but not nursing homes. But I wasn't staring as I would in a zoo, I was caught in a zone of no return, a Satyajit Ray film approximation that included not only visuals but a sensorium of nursing home non-meat soft food aromas and equally scented faux gravy elixirs swimming next to blanched greyish once frozen/boiled to death green peas.
And there in that one room, all of them sat, eating. How many? I can't even estimate. I just know it was enough white hair to create a memory singed into my dream scape forever. They looked up in unison, tremoring spoons dancing in arthriticed fingers; all of them dressed seemingly in the same dress/same sweater/wearing the same nursing home costume and coif. All of them eating in silence. All of them eating the same meal: meal number two. Probably their "Big Meal" with Wonder white Bread, ham and cheese coming later at 4:30 or 5pm. Meal three.
And there they sat, feeding mouths most likely sore from once meticulously secured but now poorly fitting dentures. There they ALL sat with mouths opening at odd angels. There they all sat like good newborns approximating "aren't I a good baby" breast memories of their first milk. There they sat, content and either being fed by an aide or feeding themselves. There they sat not retired from eating but retired from law practices, retired from scientific research, retired from housewifery, retired from relationships, retired from accounting firms, retired from pastoral duties, retired from political activism, retired from life. Now they embraced, not by choice but because of advanced medical necessity, the only jobs left to them: eating, sleeping, going to the bathroom, eating, sitting, sleeping and eating.

I wasn't there to cry or judge. I wasn't there to shudder with the realization that this "might" be my fate one day. Simply put, I was there to visit a friend and by default and because of this view of the residents' syncopated and contented sameness, I was moved into a sincere sacredness, a silence, a concentration that was breathtaking. This was holy art at it's best and they were performing a slow-mo, high-level conscious awareness and syncopated magic that only  Merce Cunningham dancers might approximate at a good gig. This was Holy Communion, the Eucharist secularized by genericed time/space and everyday context. 


The Eucharist (also called Holy Communion or the Lord's Supper, among other names) is a Christian rite that is considered a sacrament in most churches and an ordinance in others. According to the New Testament, the rite was instituted by Jesus Christ during his Last Supper; giving his disciples bread and wine during the Passover meal, Jesus commanded his followers to "do this in memory of me" while referring to the bread as "my body" and the wine as "my blood". Through the Eucharistic celebration Christians remember Christ's sacrifice of himself on the cross.
The elements of the Eucharist, bread (leavened or unleavened) and wine (or grape juice), are consecrated on an altar (or table) and consumed thereafter. Communicants (that is, those who consume the elements) may speak of "receiving the Eucharist", as well as "celebrating the Eucharist". Christians generally recognize a special presence of Christ in this rite, though they differ about exactly how, where, and when Christ is present.

And it was sacredly silent, like at Mass. None of the many, many synchronized eaters was squabbling; none were discussing the low price of chicken thighs at Sams Club; none were asking for a ride to a doctor appointment later that day; none of them wondered whose turn it was to do dishes. All of these issues were now moot points and the job at hand was to eat NOW and eat later at "supper" having eaten breakfast a few hours before. The job at hand was to sit with those exact same people at  the exact same place and trance out while shoveling in soft meals meant for mastication-light.

Student that I am of paths to enlightenment, I noted that days at the nursing home are not much different from time that students of meditation devote to intense Sadhana ( spiritual practice) in contemplative settings like monasteries, caves, contemplative convents and Tibetan/Hindu retreat rooms. Maybe, yes maybe I can scout out and try to locate that one or maybe tenth person whose eyes betray their purpose, whose eyes gave light-out not took it in, whose eyes signaled me that, "Hey lady,  guess what? This isn't such a bad deal. When your family sends you here we can hang out together? I sit/eat/shit/sleep/eat/sit but I also pray and use this safe and secret holy place to practice The Art/Life of Meditation." A hallucination? Believable message?


The Hermit's Cave, situated on Scenic Hill on the northeastern outskirts of Griffith, New South Wales, Australia, is in fact a complex of stone structures.
Misleadingly called 'The Hermit's Cave', the site in reality comprises a complex of shelters, terraced gardens, exotic plants, water-cisterns, dry-stone walling and linking bridges, stairways and paths that stretch intermittently across more than a kilometre of the escarpment. Made single-handedly by a reclusive Italian migrant,Valeri Ricetti, these structures involved the moving of hundreds of tons of stone and earth, together with the ingenious incorporation of natural features in the landscape.

As my friend Karen and I left the nursing home after visiting our once critical-care-nurse-classmate, I heard someone say as they ran to rescue me, "Mam, Mam, you can't leave here! let me see your wrist band!" Turning around I realized that she wanted to shepherd me back inside, thinking I was delusionally abandoning ship. She grabbed for my left wrist. But I, not quite ready to give up all of the creature comforts of my second hand clothes stuffed into three different closets; or give up my car that jettisoned me all over Ulster County; or give up the thrill of owning and paying for my iPhone and computer which had become surrogate plastic friends-in-a-box . I was not ready to join their secular "monastery" and surrender my ability to be able to walk to Church, the bank, the grocery store, the park; and I certainly was not ready to give up my magical back yard and those 5 glorious  trees.... my nature family in disguise.
I assured her that I was not  escaping, although a sucker for signs that I am, for a moment I thought her right.

My wristband says PRAY, HOPE, DON'T WORRY: PADRE PIO 
Maybe theirs says, POD OF NO RETURN

Linda Mary Montano, 2017

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