There’s a word in Buddhist Sanskrit: kṣānti (pronounced kshantee). It’s a quality that gets translated variously as patience, or tolerance, but my favourite translation is bearing. The ability to bear what’s actually happening.
This feels very relevant to me at the moment. A couple of weeks ago, I was under the impression that come September, I would be having my gender affirmation surgery, and coincidentally getting my damaged urethra mended for good.
Last week the goalposts shifted. I found out that I wouldn’t be getting my gender surgery until November at the earliest, and that in the meantime, I’d be having some kind of interim surgery to get my urethra through the few months until it got properly rebuilt.
This was hard to absorb. I felt angry, because the vulnerable wee person in me felt betrayed by having been given false hope that this would all be over sooner. I also found myself feeling in competition with the other local trans women – because they all got to go for their 2nd opinions before me (over here, you have to be assessed by a 2nd independent psychiatrist before you get the thumbs-up for gender surgery, and I’m going for mine next Monday), and this meant I might not get a pre-op consultation appointment for August. If I get that pre-op appointment in August, there’s a very good chance of getting my gender surgery in November – but if I don’t, it might not be before next year.
I was a mess for a few days. Grumpy, upset, argumentative, feeling hurt and sorry for myself. But I was also putting a lot of effort into caring for myself in the midst of this, because I’m fed up with punishing myself for “not responding creatively enough to suffering”, it just adds to it. Anyway, I pulled out of that nosedive and felt pretty good by the end of the week, pretty balanced and ready to do what I could to make the August appointment happen (by getting the two healthcare professionals involved to fax through referrals before posting them, since the internal postal system for the NHS could slow each letter up by a week). And ready to accept that it might not go the way I wanted it to.
Then this morning happened.
I managed to speak to the gender surgeon’s secretary who’d been away until today, and she explained to me that no, the gender surgeon would not after all be having anything to do with my urethra reconstruction, so I need to get that sorted out first locally (by the surgeon who, several months ago, bounced responsibility for that onto the gender surgeon). The consequences of this are that I have to start the process all over again of being assessed for surgery locally, getting on a waiting list for that, having the surgery. And then I have to have fully healed from that before it’s okay for me to have the gender surgery, since that involves catheterising me for a week, and I need a healed and robust new urethra to cope with that.
Two things stood out from this conversation afterwards, and made me yell “Fuuuuuuck!!!” and then put on White Punks On Dope by The Tubes very loud. The first is that, given that I have no idea how long it might take to go through this loop of waiting-surgery-recovery, I have absolutely no idea when I’m going to be physically fit to have the gender surgery. Probably sometime next year, now. The second thing that stood out was that since I’ve been bounced back to the original surgeon I was referred to at the start of the year, he could have done all this back then, and saved me months of pain and opiates, and I’d be ready for the gender surgery now.
So I was bloody furious for about an hour. I whinged to friends by email, and on my facebook wall, and on a forum I frequent.
And then I got over it. (Mostly.)
This surprised me. People were phoning me up later today to see how I was dealing with it, after having read my emails etc., and by then I was pretty sanguine.
I’ve always been intrigued by kṣānti – and I think I’m experiencing the fruits of having cultivated some, over the years, and also over last week. It’s sort of like I exercised my kṣānti muscles last week overcoming my tendency to feel IT’S NOT FAIR!!!, and so when this new goalpost shimmy happened, I was more flexible, more turned to face the real nature of things.
That’s what kṣānti means to me, really. It means having the ability to bear the impermanent, uncontrollable, shifting present. It’s different from the whole worry-about-the-future, rehash-the-past thing (which I also do if I’m not careful). It’s about being willing to assent to being a small and constantly changing part of an endless and changing cosmos, constantly mutually affecting each other, constantly shifted around, like goalposts on skateboards. Goalposts made of fog on skateboards. Or something. You get the picture, nebulous.
This isn’t just some conceptual denial process I’m talking about. I know on the one hand that at some point this year, I’ll get my urethra fixed, and that’ll be good. and at some point after that (maybe at the end of this year, maybe not until early next year), I’ll get my gender affirmation surgery, and then my anatomy will be better than it’s ever been ever. And I also know something may come along next week that changes the whole picture all over again. And I’ve been trained, by decades of practice (albeit very reluctant!) to be not only better able to bear the reality of uncertain reality, but also to be better willing to bear it. Because my experience tells me that it’s going to happen anyway, and that if I assent instead of being dragged kicking and screaming through the present, reality will happen anyway, but I’ll have a much more gentle ride of it (as will the people around me!)
As I’ve been at pains to point out before, I’m not making some grand claim to Something-With-A-Capital-Letter™ here, some kind of Insight or suchlike. I’m just saying that actions have consequences (a foundation of Buddhism), and a consequence of acting as if reality really is about constant change and mostly way beyond our control is that life becomes more enjoyable.
You know, in fits and starts. Because reading the above, it’s obvious that there’s still quite a hurrumph factor in my story about what happened. Living in the society I do, it’s pretty hard not to be trained to complain, to feel let down and betrayed by imperfection. So it’s a work in progress, like my anatomy. But I really am grateful – I live in a country where this surgery is going to happen, and I don’t have to pay for it (except indirectly, through taxation). And I’m grateful for the Buddhism I’ve been trying to live by for 22 years, that has allowed me to be relieved of being constantly stuck in the trap of anger and feelings of unfairness and betrayal. And believe me, after spending most of my life living with that all the time, it’s delightful to only feel it sometimes, and to be able to turn to myself and say “…Nah, let’s not.” 😀 Sometimes.
Just to end with, I want to say that this is why in the Buddhist school I’m a student in/of, we teach not just the cultivation of mindfulness/awareness, but also of emotional positivity, of loving kindness. Because let’s face it, being more aware means being more face-to-face with reality, and its shifting and uncontrollable nature – and it takes a certain amount of emotional positivity to bear that. You can’t face reality with your mind, if your heart’s not in it.
I’ve probably mentioned this before, but what the hell – just as trees need sunshine and soil and insects and water and and and… we need love along with our awareness, or we claw up towards the light and end up sickly and leggy and easily blown over. (ACME Metaphors™):
The voices of the hearts of trees
Have this to say:
Grow… but grow slowly
Grow slowly… but grow
[up top is a sand sculpture from Kauai that seemed apt to Reality coming along suddenly and… And down bottom is a fern with a ladybird, because.]