Maintenance as Love (Part 1)

“People don’t visit me anymore,” my grandmother says over the phone. “I guess they’re all too busy.”

Loneliness has made her voice more tender than usual.

I start feeling the urge to leap over her pain by changing the subject to something lighter, brighter, more superficial. But when she stops to apologize for talking about herself, and trails off into muffled sobs, it strikes me that her suffering is compounded every time we sweep it under the rug.

I’ve avoided calling her for weeks. Not sure if it’s because I’ve been busy or because I’ve been trying to not remember how sad she is. The woman has experienced the kind of loss that will leave a deep wound for the rest of her life. She’s brittle from a lack of loving attention. She’s tired from always having to keep up the facade of cheerfulness.

When you lose the ability to drive, as my grandmother explains, your ability to see those you love is suddenly dependent entirely on their willingness to come to you. I can barely imagine how neglected, abandoned, unloved, I’d feel if they just stopped coming one day.

I recently heard a master gardener talk about maintenance as an expression of love. He was referring to the upkeep of a garden, of course, and of the need to return again and again to a particular place in order to facilitate the cultivation of whatever seeds have been planted.

I also recently learned that cultivation is the literal meaning of bhavana – the Pali word for meditation. To cultivate the clarity that follows from a meditation practice, we have to actually maintain the practice.

So whether we’re talking about a practice, a relationship, or a garden, it seems like the maintenance is where we locate and express our love.

4 thoughts on “Maintenance as Love (Part 1)

  1. Sanjeev Prasher

    It is our moral duty to care for our elders and always keep in touch with them. If we are not doing this means we have not made progress in dhamma.

    1. A woman lives in a 1,500 year old redwood tree for 2 years to protect it from loggers. Would you say she’s made no progress in the realm of compassion for other beings, just because she was unable to communicate much, for obvious reasons, with her family (including her elders)? Do you think monks who cut themselves off from practically everyone for great lengths of time to focus solely on the practice…don’t make any progress in dhamma? What if when we claim to know, by means of one indicator, whether someone has or has not made progress in dhamma, we are actually just giving ourselves permission to be judgmental? Thanks for the comment, Sanjeev.

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