On living and dying…365 days a year
written for Sreejit’s 365 Days on Living and Dying
published June 22, 2016 – Happy Birthday, Mom!
Since a very young child, I often wondered where all the dead went. Notice I say “dead” as it includes all things living that die including all of nature.
Some believe in heaven, purgatory and hell. Yet what if the first few moments after a death there is a limbo where spirits linger – stick around for their loved ones for as long as needed? What if there is a dimension invisible to the human eye except for those who have reached enlightenment?
Where will I be? Will I be in limbo a long time, passing through waiting in between?
floating in third dimensions
© Tournesol ’16
We are travelers in life and in death, according to The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche.
Growing up as a Catholic, I have never doubted that we all went to heaven, hell or purgatory after we died. I was a bit confused as to limbo and thought it was when a living person could not let go of the person who died or that the dead person was in between places until either the living person let him go or that spirit in limbo had a task to do. I know it sounds silly! It makes me think of those shows and movies about angels coming down to help some people on earth and yet, I do believe in that too.
Of course I always hoped my life would lead me to heaven but having been infected with the guilt of Catholicism, I gave in to the idea that it would most likely be purgatory because I never felt I was good enough or deserving enough. How could I? I did not recite the rosary every day like GrandMaman, I was impatient, did not like sharing my chips or sweets as a child. As a young child I often felt this rage inside that was unexplained. Perhaps it was the era of “children are seen and not heard” but still lots of people my age acquiesced to this rule. Nonetheless, I was sure I was closer to hell than heaven with such bubbling anger inside my little body as a child that fermented over time.
I grew up and grew apart from the church but not from God. I still believe in a higher power as well as some sort of heaven or paradise. My grandmother had explained to me at a young age not to fear thunder and lightning for they were the rumbling sounds of GrandPapa bowling for money to send to her as a widow’s pension. The lightning was the sign that he won…He sure won a lot, I thought and it made sense since my grandmother did not have any money except for the very little she received as a midwife making home visits and a border renting a room in her house.
Death still scared me especially when I became a mother. I was not afraid to leave this earth but afraid to leave my young children. And yet, I believe having children helped me to live to live longer and healthier. Of course it was in the 70’s where you just followed the flow. We had a large vegetable garden which allowed me to also can many of my vegetables for the winter. Making home-made yogurt was the “in” thing then. My son still tells me to this day he remembers how he did not enjoy it and yet, I found it so much better. It was not tart or sour like store bought yogurt but then again, memory and perception can be quite confusing. I was reading more on letting go of the ego, meditation and the aim in finding enlightenment. How little did I know that I was on the right path in those days? And then, life happened on an alternate path.
Volunteering with young mothers just did not satisfy me enough, nor did being on many school and community committees. My long awaited desire to study and work took over especially with more time on my hands with the children in school. I first worked in home care. I saw death every day for two years. Bathing the dying in their homes and comforting their caregivers seemed like such a privilege that they let me into their homes. But I had a hard time setting boundaries and each time a person died, I felt a little of me expire as well. We were not taught nor supported in those days on how to debrief or get help…so I went back to university to get my degree in helping the “living”. By being a Family Life Educator, it allowed me to refocus on living and improving life around me as well.
Being preoccupied with death defeats the purpose and meaning of living, doesn’t it? I am trying to be the best person that I can be. How privileged am I to work in the helping profession and “be” what I love. However after a decade of studying and preparing for my last career (before retirement , that is, I hope my health will always allow me to serve) I am seeing light and goodness despite the hardships and suffering around me. Are my lenses tinted or is my perception on life changing? Well, I would rather not argue this and sit back and enjoy it,!
How can I not notice the soldier who is seen petting a dog in the midst of war or comforting a young child among the rubble! A child getting up in the Métro to give me his seat, a homeless person watching me walk by crying shouts at me with his toothless smile to not worry because tomorrow is another day. Despite the horrors of the world where the media make more money by portraying and assuming the human race is hooked on gore and misery, I like to turn to kindness blogs and sharing acts of kindness. Goodness sells too, if only it was shared more. I am not the only one who cries of joy seeing Ellen or Oprah giving people gifts and especially hope. I’ve seen thousands weep of joy after being embraced by Amma who is the embodiment of compassion and goodness. Try to convince me that love and compassion is not contagious? I will only bow in silence and chant a mantra wishing love and happiness to you and the world.
Tell me I am just being naïve and I will simply explain that it is my way of searching for the light. What a delightful journey to seek inner peace and feel love! I see images of that smile on the face of an old man sitting with his legs crossed, eyes closed for hours humming with a look of utter bliss on his face…that IS feeling truly alive.
And so, in my humble living and awkward passing through life, stumbling often, I find my step softens and my body feels lighter when I am chanting. How is that? When I recite Hail Mary’s as I did as a young child, a sense of peace wraps me as if to say, “there there” not to worry.
chanting as I walk
one hundred eight wooden beads
sighs at a good night’s work
head on pillow
whispers like old times
three Hail Mary’s
The Tibetan word bardo literally means transitional state or “in-between state”. In Sanskrit the concept has the name antarabhāva. It is a concept which arose soon after the Buddha’s passing, accepting the existence of such an intermediate state after death before rebirth. In other words, the term “bardo” refers to the state of existence intermediate between two lives on earth.
I suppose life can also be seen as bardo, a passing in time before death and our next life. I like to think that moments in time either during deep meditation or when we are in a dreamlike state, there are experiences that can be felt but too difficult to put into words.
Here is a Tanka I wrote trying to describe this term “bardo” and eventually reaching the light. Of course I think I am influenced with the memory of my GrandPapa hours before drying, smiling on his deathbed at me. I remember my mother saying he had whispered, “Oh la lumière, qu’elle est si belle, la lumière blanche!” (Oh the light, how it is so beautiful the white light!)
sinks in a deep slumber
lull of the water
between sudden arrests
slips in the shimmering abyss
When my mother died, I knew then that there had to be what Rinpoche calls “bardo”, a place tween places. The soul leaves the body but still lingers for a while. A few days after she passed, I remember sitting in the kitchen late at night and felt a cold draft coming near me. I sat waiting and saying in my mind, “come and hug me, Mom, if you like, I am not frightened.” At that moment I felt cold air approach me and pass right through me. I felt her presence in my home for a few months. Where is she now? I take solace thinking she is reborn each spring as that little butterfly I have been seeing since last spring.
gazing with awe
wings of a butterfly
gazing with awe
flower to flower
wings of a butterfly
colours and patterns
blessed from the heavens
sent by an angel
I remember reading Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor Frankl in the mid ‘80’s. I was going through a lot of soul searching on what I wanted to do with my life. Frankl lived through the concentration camps during the Holocaust. This book was originally entitled From Concentration Camp to Existentialism in German editions.
Frankl had hidden his manuscript in the lining of his coat for many years and I will not share more for those who have not read this book. I recommend to many youths and adults who are struggling with the purpose and meaning of life.
I hear this struggle when speaking to older teens and adults. And even if there was ONE simple answer to the meaning of life, one has to experience living to find their true purpose.
I believe fumbling and making mistakes are opportunities and free life lessons. I just reread that Frankl’s own “logotherapy,” created from his book, Man’s search for Meaning, views suffering not as an obstacle to happiness but often the necessary means to it, less a pathology than a path. How true that is! That old cliché “no gain without pain” is spot on!
I knew somehow, since I was a teen I would someday have a university degree and a career helping people. Although I went through different paths to get there, that desire fed me along the way. I feel so much love within, not only for my children and family but l believe that love is life and without it, a person is dead inside; one must love oneself, too, as others in order to truly grow in mind and spirit. We talk about encouraging youths to believe in themselves and do the best they can in life and this interview with Frankl confirms the importance of just that…
Rinpoche tells us to do what you love to do ; unfortunately, we often have a bucket list, because we are too busy. I have spent many years suspended in time being too busy to do what I truly love…times I doubted myself but found that confidence again which was my fuel to continue…so I can live life as I love.
Writing is another activity I kept on hold until I would be less busy. In the past three years, writing has actually allowed me to appreciate life and grow more spiritually. I find writing waka (Japanese forms of poetry such as haiku) is a spiritual way of living…like praying and chanting. Since we often write about nature and Mother Earth, what better way to be close to Our Creator.
une grandmère spares little
worm curls in rich soil
worm curls in rich soil
bed of fruitful promises
like a field of golden rod
ruling God’s earth
How can life exist without compassion? I am not the only one drawn to self-less acts of kindness. I write often about this, perhaps, like a broken record but if I truly believe in something, does it not make sense to share this as how I want to live and aspire to get better at it day by day?
tears of mistreated children
searching sun’s glow
listening with compassion
pillars shimmer promise
Life is about living and savouring each moment…it passes by so quickly as many older people, like myself, will often say. My daughter’s son will soon be twelve and here in Québec that means, he will be entering high school in the fall. That time in my children’s lives just flew by and as a grandmother, I want to be able to see these times…be part of his life more before it is my time.
As I am entering my 17th year at the youth line where I work, I repeat to managers each year they are training new staff: “Use and abuse me” with a chuckle. I am never sure what I know that can help them but what I want to do is help to mentor them as they start their careers helping youths. Although, I am filled with flaws and imperfections and that’s okay …it just makes me real.
When I walk to work and hear only chatter that upsets me in my mind , I chant the 3 km walk and look at nature around me.
clouds in formation – hillocks
catch my breath
lift my spirits
exude inner peace
clouds in formation – hillocks
captivating and halting
leave me breathless
catch my breath
holding nature’s pure essence
in my heart
© Tournesol ’16
Listening to youths in crisis every evening, I have to find some balance in my life so I do not live with stories of abuse, suffering or sadness. Reading was once my sole escape for many years until I rediscovered writing. Now, I am able to defuse pent up emotions and other times rediscover the beauty around me I can write about. Waka has added the beauty of nature soaking in my whole being with sights, sounds and scents.
I take away so much strength from the power of the firmament…the blues, the greys, the curves of clouds as well as sunsets I often view on my break on the rooftop at work.
Rinpoche sees life as a bardo and it shows us that our consciousness has senses, lives in a world, observes, starts relationships, living life. Rinpoche says: “Life is to discover the goodness of life, an exercise to realize that life is good and that also means … accepting dead as part of our life.”
I must look at myself with compassion from the depth of my consciousness. I must practice what I preach and tell myself, “I’m okay.” Whenever I find myself out of balance, my body breaks down and I need to take time off and rest. Often these were times I discovered the value of true friends and sometimes just being alone puts things in perspective…balance.
river rapids flow
listen to the babbling current
seagulls laugh at life
As I walk along the path in this last season, I cannot help but see beauty all around as winter clears the view. Living is often slower in this season as well, which gives me time to think, pray, love and live.
© Cheryl-Lynn aka Tournesol’16
More Haiku at my mentor Chèvrefeuille at CarpeDiemHaikuHai