One day, when I was about five or six years old, my brother Jon had just finished cooking fish sticks in the oven. The oven door had been opened and the fish sticks were sitting there on the pan cooling. For at least a minute, nobody was around but me.
I was hungry and getting impatient waiting for Jon to return.
I didn’t know if the pan was hot or not but I remember thinking the five-year old equivalent of “screw it, I’m just gonna touch it.” I reached down and put my thumb on the pan. It sizzled. I was burned.
In a panic I ran upstairs frantically searching for my mother, tears streaming down my face through gasps of panic and fear. Up until that day, my mother had been just like most other mothers where if one of her babies was upset she was there to kiss it and make it all better. Even just a few days before this she had lovingly attended to a scraped knee of mine so I was expecting at least that same level of care and comfort on this occasion, especially because this was a more serious and painful injury.
I found my mother sitting in our shrine room. I screamingly thrust my rapidly blistering thumb in front of her face and to my shock and disbelief, she just stared back at me coldly. I started to seriously lose my mind at this point. I was in pain and my mother was watching me suffer! She wasn’t doing anything! I kept on pleading with her for help and she just sat there with no expression until she abruptly grabbed me, pulled me onto her lap, took my wrist, opened up my little clenched child-fist exposing the burn on my thumb to the sting of the air, and held my thumb in front of my face while I fought her. I was terrified. Yet, no matter how much I struggled, she kept me there with the burn right in front of my eyes. I would try to close them and she would say flatly, “Open your eyes Monty.”
She then began to give me instructions. She kept on telling me, in a monotone and distinctly non-motherly voice that was utterly foreign to me, “Look at it”, “Feel what it feels like”, “WHAT does it feel like?”, “Be with it”, “Don’t fight it”, “Feel it” etc. It is important to understand that at this point, the burn was not past the ‘apply cold water’ stage and was still very treatable. It had just happened and she knowingly did not do what you are “supposed to do” in such a situation. But there she was saying, “Feel the pain. Be one with the pain. Forget about what you think it feels like. WHAT DOES IT REALLY FEEL LIKE?” After a while, I actually did stop fighting and listened to her, and was very surprised at what I found. It’s not that it didn’t hurt, because it did, but once I let go of all the panic and fear and simply felt the sensation for what it was, I saw that it was nothing more than a warm pulse throughout my body that started at a slight sting on the thumb, and it wasn’t anything to cry over.
At this point, being only five or six years old, I had not meditated for more than three minutes in my entire life, but I knew what meditation was and had received basic meditation instruction. The last thing she repeated to me as she continued to hold my now blistered thumb in front of my face was, “This is why you meditate. THIS is why you meditate. This is why YOU MEDITATE.” She then took me downstairs, put ointment and a band-aid on it, and she and Jon served me lunch.