As a child August meant school was around the corner. With mixed feelings she anticipated a new school year, that smell of fresh ink on new books, her best handwriting on that first page of her scribbler and so much promise to fill her mind…learning anew. Of course there were new students arriving in her little town and new relationships forming opening her heart she smiles, waiting with anticipation. And yet, as months progress death looms in the air as leaves fall and grounds reek of decay…
Walking home with her grandson after a wonderful day in the city, she could not help but admire the sky. Once, her grandson was sound asleep, she read about the sad news…such a loss in the world of haiku. And then, she understood the mysteries of the sky tonight.
dash of white clouds stand out in the night sky
dash of white clouds
splash of goodness
wings of an angel
more or less
in the night sky
greets an angel with a smile
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?
passing through floating in third dimensions pending revival
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 reaching quietude
walking home sighs at a good night’s work chanting softly
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!)
rocking gently 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 my new-found-friend
gazing with awe peaceful repose flower to flower
wings of a butterfly colours and patterns Divine’s creation
my new-found-friend 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?
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.
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.
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.
Twenty-five men left five days ago. The jeep left a trail dust riding over the hill where they were stationed. Today only twelve men returned but only five in one piece. It was their last mission before returning back home. They were anxious to see their family back in Canada but dreaded delivering the tragic news to more grieving families. Sergeant Harvey drove the jeep behind the compound and their mascot ran to greet them. Amir was a black Labrador mix and his loyalty was genuine.
dropping to his knees savouring a gesture of pure love man’s best friend
What happens exactly as you die? In the Tibetan Book of Living and Dying Sogyal Rinpoche explains it through the idea/ thought of bardo. “Bardo” means “inbetween” and its a kind of transition-mode. Let us look further in the depth of the meaning of bardo, maybe than we can understand it 100%.
Through the chinks comes the light
The original meaning of bardo is, the space between the moment of dying and reincarnation / rebirth. As we ‘dive’ deeper into this matter than we discover more than one bardo. Let’s go …
First there is the bardo of living and dying. This is a painful bardo, but also the moment that the nature of spirit / soul becomes real and in a way breaks through the armor of the body. This we can see in, for example, the story of Easter as Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane and asks His Father, God, to take away the cup of poison. Than He is arrested and indures the pain of 39 lashes and the crucifixion. As He dies He commands His Spirit to His Father. This is what we can call the bardo of living and dying.
What follows is the bardo which is called the shining bardo or dharmata, the state of consciousness / mind after death. To explain this shining bardo, wasn’t easy, because I could not find something to explain it with. Than I got a revelation. This shining bardo you can see as a bright light, the radiation of the pure nature of spirit / mind. It’s a state of pure happiness. In a way this you can see as what is happening as you (someone) has a Near Death Experience (NDE). I ran into a few stories about NDE when I was preparing these episodes. As you read the reports about NDE than everyone sees a bright light in which shadows are moving, ancestors mostly, but angels too.
This shining bardo doesn’t stay forever. Sometimes it takes / endures seven days, but it can also take seven weeks.
The next bardo is called the bardo of becoming. The consciousness / mind finds a new place, in a new body and a new life gets started. This we can also see in the story of Easter. After three days, and taht’s very fast as we compare this with the Tibetan idea about living and dying, Jesus rises from the grave. He conquered dead and became an enlightened being who walks a short time on this earth and than rises to Heaven making the Holy Spirit, a kind of reborn energy, avalable to the world. With His ressurection and entering Heaven He broke the Circle of Bardo, as did Buddha.
In Tibetan tradition of bardo the songs from The Book of the Dead were recited by the monks to lead the spirit. Rinpoche goes further in this idea and describes his ideas in The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying. In his book he sees life as it is as a bardo. The bardo between birth and the moment of sying, life in itself is a transition. It’s a time in which we learn, contemplate, meditate and prepare on death.
Rinpoche goes even further, a period of uncertainty can also be a bardo. For example, the moment you come home and see that there has been a burglary while you were away. Or that moment between “I have bad news” and “I have to tell you …” At that moment the concrete of your reality breaks and you feel that the ground is disappearing beneath your feet. Than the realization comes … you see the essence. No more time for futilities. It’s a moment of truth … you can see what really is important.
This is what this Insight means … discover the truth by tearing down the veil. This is what happened as Jesus died at the cross. The veil that hid the Holy of Holies was torn apart exposing the holiest place in the temple and the revelation that Jesus really was the Son of God.
Our host’s response
To write a haiku, tanka or another Japanese poetry form about this 2nd Insight isn’t easy I think, but I had to try it myself (of course) and this is what came in mind, a haiku from my archives:
phoenix spreads its wings
after the dark cold winter night
Sometimes, life doesn’t seem fair when one looks solely as one struggles through the muck of life, taking longer to reach any light of day. And yet, those who struggle most, seem to have been offered multiple opportunities, various paths to take, to finally reach the summit…light in all its essence.
shy beginnings lateral search in quagmire seeking light
I was so fascinated by Chiyo-Ni’s haiku, that I had check to see if I could find an ebook this morning and found a lovely collection of 44 selected Haiku composed during the entire life of Chiyo-ni. The Snow Woman :Selected Haiku by Fukuda Chiyo-Ni. Haiku selected and translated by Luca Cenisi, President of the Italian Haiku Association (AIH)
There are so many great haiku, it was not easy choosing…I think I may start a little booklet working on some of her haiku and trying to write in that tone this fall.