Helpful wisdom, compassion and care for you

In the thick of it: maintain buoyancy

“Maintain buoyancy” was a favorite expression of my friend Sharon’s father.

I love it. I love the way it feels.

Certainly we all have plenty of opportunity to reference it, as we face life’s ups and downs. In Buddhist practice we say, “This,” holding out one palm, “and this,” holding out the other. The dark and the light. It’s not personal; it’s the human condition. C’est la vie.

Last week there occurred one of those days when I needed to “maintain buoyancy.” I went to see my doctor anticipating we would be talking about my completing the course of medication I’ve been on for about 3 months to treat a serious lung infection. Unfortunately, there’s currently no cure for the infection. Fortunately, there is something that can be done to treat it and it’s been very effective in stopping a cough I had for over 6 months. Unfortunately, the treatment has been very rough. The primary difficulty is intermittent nausea, which shows up whenever it feels like it, with no rhythm, rhyme or reason. Just there it is, and it’s suddenly difficult to function.

Fortunately, I won’t have to take the medications indefinitely… but unfortunately, my doctor told me she thinks I will need to be on them for perhaps a total of 18 months, we’ll see.

Fortunately by Remy Charlip

This reminds me of a marvelous children’s book, Fortunately by Remy Charlip. I’ve taken it out of the library dozens of times over the years because it so perfectly illustrates both life’s fortunes (“Fortunately!”) and misfortunes (“Unfortunately…”).

Fortunately, Ned was invited to a surprise party.
Unfortunately, the party was a thousand miles away.
Fortunately, a friend loaned Ned an airplane.
Unfortunately, the motor exploded.
Fortunately, there was a parachute in the airplane.
Unfortunately, there was a hole in the parachute…

Really, if you haven’t read it, I strongly suggest you get ahold of a copy. Despite the difficulties (there are tigers), it’s so delightful.

So, back to the 18 months.

Somebody moved the goal line.

I find myself having to recalibrate; to be okay with what is: 18 months of potential nausea on a fairly constant yet unpredictable basis. Hmmmm…

I wrote out a list of my available resources:

  • My beloved children, sangha, dharma buddies, colleagues, friends and family. They are loving and always amazing. They check on me and provide hugs, laughter and listening. And they come up with great thoughts! My son Arran suggested that my body might learn to tolerate the medications better over the 18 months. Smart! Encouraging. Hopeful.
  • Curiosity. A natural part of Buddhist practice. We learn to be curious about whatever is going on, whether pleasurable or uncomfortable. We think, Hello! What is this? It’s a very healthy way to greet life, avoid anxiety and develop equanimity. It turns out that turning into rather than away from hard things helps us to be ok with them, rather than elongate suffering. This may not quite make sense, but it works. (Yay!).
  • My very smart, down-to-earth doctor. She’s a very keen researcher into the very lung infection I have. It’s encouraging that she cares. I so appreciate her advanced knowledge and her compassionate understanding of what life is like with this problem. I feel like I’m in good, kind hands.
  • Birdsong. Hearing the caws, coos, and flute-like voices of my avian friends have brought me through many rough moments and back to the present, where it certainly is beautiful to be listening to birdsong. Also in this category: smelling roses and examining the extraordinary dark red of the tightly woven petals of a dahlia observed on my daily walk. In other words, connecting with nature, every day, in its ever-changing, divine promenade.
  • Admiring the light. I adore the sunlight and shadows that play on the walls of my old Victorian house at different times of day, and the light pouring through stain glass windows onto the columns and floor of the nave at the Washington National Cathedral. I find these comforting.
  • A year of wellness. I had just signed up for a year of wellness with Jen Leonard, an acupuncturist in Denver, and felt sad that I would still be in treatment, rather than moving well beyond. Jen explained that in our monthly calls we’ll come up with what’s supportive, and adjust as we go along (maintain buoyancy!); and that diet and lifestyle factors will help me tolerate the drugs better and help them work better! I’ll have more chi to power wellness. Isn’t it great that I have this lined up?
  • My friend Tanmeet’s Tug of Gratitude. Tanmeet Sethi is a family doc in Seattle who writes a weekly gratitude blog. She recently wrote “How a Tug of Gratitude saved the first day of school” when her 3 children returned to school this fall. About her oldest son on his first day of high school, she said: 

    “I felt rushes of pride for sure, so proud of all he is and yet to become. But what I also felt was rushes of nostalgia as I realized he was really growing up and becoming his own young man. Not needing me as much as he used to. I felt rushes of fear as my own high school experience which was not very positive tugged at my heart, hoping his experience would be different. Fear, anxiety, sadness, letting go all tangled up in my heart. Tugging tightly on my heart.

    And with every painful tug, I tugged back with:

    “I am grateful that he has the privilege to go to school. I am grateful that he is finding himself as a young man. I am grateful because all of my sadness means that I love so deeply.”

    What a great skill! I’m practicing tugging back.

  • Reading and listening to music. I’m always reading 4 or 5 books at once. Lately I’ve been veering towards more escape reading. Why not? Especially nice when nauseous. Music-wise I’m listening to a lot of old videos of Eric Clapton’s Crossroads concerts, with the stage full of brilliant old-guy guitarists and singers (B.B. King, Buddy Guy, Sheryl Crow, Carlos Santana, Bob Dylan, Vince Gill, James Taylor.) Those guitars say it all! Weeping, singing, laughing, flowing, on the pulse of the moment.
  • Walking every day. Even when I don’t feel like it, and especially if I feel nauseous, it really helps! My doctor calls it “pulmonary hygiene.” I call it the breath of life. Delicious.

Just one more thought about maintaining buoyancy: you can’t always get what you want (speaking of old guitar music). And that’s ok, too.

I’m re-calibrating, being with what is, and savoring the best of it. Right now I’m listening to a crow caw, knowing that more than likely her whole family is nearby, since crows are tribal sorts who tend to stick together. I’m part of her listening audience, and she’s part of my world.

Kind of magic, don’t you think?


Enlightenment at the Courthouse


My kind of health insurance


  1. Emily Best

    These are such important and helpful concepts on the way to “maintain buoyancy.” A setback in my health has sent me searching for ways to re-establish my equanimity, to create my own recalibration. I am grateful for your suggestions.

    • Jo

      Oh darling! I wondered. I’m here for you! Walk? Takeout tea in the Bishop’s Garden? I can come by? We are in the thick of it, aren’t we! Sending you much metta and love. <3 <3 <3

      • Emily Best

        Yes. Going to the Bishop’s Garden sometime or walking sounds great. I need to walk everyday and it is so much more fun with a dharma friend. If you’re going to meditation on Saturday, perhaps we could coordinate something then. much metta

  2. Jo

    Lovely, Emily! Will email you. Next Saturday sit is 10/14 (2nd Saturday of the month). xoxo

  3. Tanmeet

    Jo-this was beautiful, so many important life lessons here. What I was most moved by is your openness to what is and determination to stay open through it. You made this 18 months seem doable which means we can look at all our challenges as being “doable” as well. Much love, Tanmeet

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