Spiritual Growth Boot Camp
C. Graham Campbell
My life was floating along nicely and then death stomped in kicking my butt awake. I did not choose to enlist in this Marine Corp and its bootcamp. I was dragged kicking and screaming into it. I went through a tsunami of health issues over a five year period which included emergency heart surgery, installation of a pacemaker, two hip replacements, anemia after several months of being unable to eat solid foods, Covid-19 with three years of brain fog and a couple of bouts of very painful Gout. I reluctantly retired and stopped driving. Grief flowed along the ever-present trail of life skills that were dissolving. The only place I felt safe was in my apartment, especially sitting in a recliner. I was not sure if I was afraid I was dying or wished I was dying. So much of me was being lost every damn day I wasn’t sure what would be left. I did not really care if I didn’t drive any more, but it scared me that I couldn’t. I, a formerly avid hiker, could only walk short distances with a cane. As a life long spiritual student with a love of Buddhism I could no longer do as the master instructed the student to “chop wood and carry water,” either literal or symbolic, without risk of lopping off a foot.
Death and I looked each other in the eyes and ‘decided’ we would hang out together for a while in the universal Boot Camp of its design. I do wish I could say the death met its match in me and backed off. But anytime Death (Big-d) faces off with the Big-e (ego) it eventually wins. So now we sit together. It looks like his chair is considerably more comfortable than mine.
As we hang out, my kinda new, kinda friend (frenemy) teaches me. I want more time, ten more years and I’ll be ready and then I get it. It isn’t about quantity but quality. If I want more the only place to get that is NOW. Death says, “Graham, wake up now. Wake up every minute.” My drill instructor tells me that I just did the equivalent of fifty push-ups. Big-e still wants more. The soul wants deeper. Big-d chuckles.
Facing death brought the gift of alerting me to the limitation of time for all humans. I don’t have any more breaths to fritter away. I am more awake in every moment, well most moments, well more moments than in the past. I wonder if being more honest with myself is a very likable side effect of all of this. Being present also means present to the grief of things lost. I’d love to drive alone to the ocean one more time, well actually, fifty more times if I get one. I still want another ten years to add to my seventy-five. But if I get that I’ll want ten more minutes. Perhaps I should become a vegan to stave off the inevitable. Big-e fancies itself as a good bargainer. Big-d chuckles again.
Even in the midst of all these gifts, I’m present to the sense that I might be willing to give up what I’ve gained if I could just have my fifty-year-old body and self back. But that does not seem to be in the cards. Big-d, having a good ole time, is again chuckling in the seat next to me pointing out every time ego pops up. Words are now unnecessary, the giggle is enough.
Time is limited. Find the quality let go of the quantity. Find the Eternal Now in each moment. The great certainty of death and the uncertainty of when are not always an enemy.
At this point my companion, as any master drill sergeant would do, slaps his hand on the table, starts
screaming, “Private Campbell, don’t get ahead of yourself. There is still a lot more on the way. Don’t you forget I’ve been here forever terrifying people and I have a lot yet to teach you. Your seventy-five years is just a puny little drop in the sea. So, Private Campbell, who are you. Right now, tell me who you are. Answer my question. Who are you.” He is leaning over pounding the table and staring right into my soul.
“Well, sir, about all I know for sure is that I am your student, preparing to respond to your next question.”
Drill Surgent says, “Not Bad Private.”
C. Graham Campbell, Ph.D. was born in Canada and immigrated to this country with his parents at the age of three. He is a seventy-five- year- old retired psychologist and a late blossoming author. He has a master’s degree in theology, a doctorate in pastoral psychology and training in Spiritual Psychology. He retired in 2020. He now spends most of his time involved with family, writing, meditating, and exploring what being an elder means. His work has previously appeared in Family Networker, Natural New England, Bacopa, Ravin’s Perch, and Evening Street Review. He is currently working on a book on Nature Mysticism.