For instance, the Buddha taught that greed, anger, and misunderstanding are the causes that give rise to suffering. If we ourselves are not yet acquainted with greed, anger, and misunderstanding, …
Walkin’ through Jazz Alley…with Enya
Join Ben’s photo challenge: Narrow
After receiving great news I often experience a desire to reach out to someone, anyone with whom to share, to celebrate. When life’s sorrows come to my door there is a yearning for someone…something with whom to connect with…to find a shared understanding that eases the confusion that wraps around grief; yet, a bit of courage is needed…to silence anxiety’s voice, “to speak of death is lose the listener you seek.”
My mother, Elberta, passed away on the 19th of April, 2016…6 days after her 89th birthday. Since her passing, a number of popular culture icons also left this world…and I found myself, in response to the exhausting news coverage, whispering, “my mother died” as if this utterance would bring about a global moment of silence in which to honor both her life and death and to ease the aloneness that dwells within grief’s shadow.
One belief I have that has sustained me for many years is that to honor the lives of those who have gone is to keep them in the heart and be with others in such a way as to honor them. In an odd way…it’s like a unspoken desire to bring about…yes, a small bit of immortality.
I have read that one way (out of many) to walk alongside the grief and memories that come unbidden is found in the perspective that “in the days and weeks that follow a death especially for the first 49 days one can help the deceased’s mind/body by avoiding harming others, generating love and compassion, doing kind actions, making charity and specific prayers and practices that their spiritual teachers recommend and dedicating this positive energy to the mind/spirit of the loved one, wishing only peace and happiness for them and rebirth in the presence of their God or Buddha.”
With this way of being with grief and loss in mind, I undertook a 100 day-blog project to honor my mother’s life. She loved photography, poetry, nature, needlepoint, and teaching others sign language. It is my hope that the images and words within this project reached out and touched the lives of others with a similar sense of awe that she often expressed as she witnessed the beauty and mystery of the world about us.
My work as a psychotherapist taught me about the healing components of art, especially its means of communicating what words alone cannot convey. Also, during a difficult period of time in my life, a co-worker would send emails that included attached images of “aweness” and beauty. I came to realize that during those moments when I allowed myself to be opened to amazement my emotional self shifted from a negative state of mind to a place of equanimity…as if these images offered a safe harbor sheltering self from an emotional storm.
Thank you for joining me on this journey of 100 days…I hope you were gifted with a moment or two of “aweness”, contemplation, and/or equanimity as you wandered through the gallery of these writings and images.
From this day forward, I will be…
may we find peace.
…the scent of mothballs signals the opening of a small steamboat trunk entrusted with long-forgotten memorabilia. Carefully placed upon a layer of women’s 1930 era clothing are three stacks of yellow ribbon-tied envelopes. Within each are hand-written letters reminiscent of second grade penmanship inquiring, “Dear Mother, how are you? Fine I hope.” On the left side is a stationery box filled with certificates of marriage, birth, baptism, and death intermingled with a child’s brilliantly colored drawings.
Beneath the box is a small silk sachet holding a solitary diamond engagement ring and an ivory locket. At the bottom of the trunk, children’s books and wooden blocks with carved letters surround a miniature wooden rocking chair and a one-button eyed velvety-patched teddy bear. I become distracted from the remaining contents as black and white photograph images softly held within the folds of a woman’s garnet silk dress glide in the air and scatter on the floor.
The photographic images are a visual memoir of a young family where trust once allowed two young sisters to roam free throughout a field of tall, yellowed grass. “How many days,” my questioning mind wonders, “how many days were left before the decline of my father’s health shifted the lights of a colorful present into the gray-shaded time of waiting?” Within this stillness of waiting, memory tells of a young child seeking solace through repetitive rocking behaviors and of a father’s fragile heart enduring a turbulent wait for a donated aorta.
I hear compassion speak to my heart and I begin to feel how my father intuitively knew of my inner turmoil and of the tranquil stillness within rhythmic repetition. His gift of a rocking chair tells me some fifty years after his death of the multiple emotional and physical sufferings within his suffering, the interconnectedness of the suffering within the family, and of his wish to ease our suffering.
As the fabric of the dress glides between my fingertips, the shadow of grief that holds the memories of my son emerges from a compartment hidden within the trunk. An old fear awakens as the image of grief’s blackened shadow looms over me with its death-filled abyss of intermingled condemnation, uncertainty, and emptiness. I feel the void that will consume me if I were to release the eternal care of my son to its embrace. I come to know that I hold no trust that within death is compassionate loving-kindness. Awareness arises to tell me that as I run from grief with the anguish of powerlessness to protect the heart of my soul, like an addict running from her addiction, grief becomes even more insidious. In this undifferentiated chaos of anguish, fear, and mistrust there is hope [larger than a mustard seed] which seeks for the magical garment when donned will transform me into the Great Mother. It is childhood faith that clings to the belief that as God witnesses this transformation, absolution and reconciliation would simultaneously subdue this impenetrable monster and return my son, whole with the spirit of life, to…*
B Catherine Koeford
Summer will soon
between wild flowers.
In our next spring
let’s meet as butterflies
Though we are parted,
If on Casper Mountain Peak
I should honor the sound
of the pine trees swaying there –
with the summer breeze.
bonfires for the dead
sputter and die…
a flood of memories
If my life
is still together,
I will occupy this hut
under the tree
Sky Above, Great Wind
Trans: K Tanahashi
Song of Chugen
My parents departed long ago.
How often I grieve in sadness!
I had only two aunts left:
Last year I went to Kyoto and sobbed.
This year I moved to the shore of a lake and river.
My grief multiplies as I move through space and seasons.
Monks perform an urabon ceremony* after cleaning the temple.
The chanting of sad voices resounds to the red banners.
Then a cool breeze arrives;
cleansing and darkening showers merge with the dust.
Rain over, plantain shadow under the leaning sun-
the spirit of my father appears before me.
After the ceremony I return to the monks’ quarters,
making a silent dedication for his liberation:
“Spirit, do not stay sunk forever.
Quickly prepare a boat and cross to the other shore.”
*Since the early days of Buddhism,
the Urabon Ceremony is a time set aside
for people to pray for the
peace and happiness of the deceased.
Sky Above, Great Wind
Trans: K Tanahashi
unable to sleep
going out from the cottage –
the summer moon
Haiku Master Buson
Y Sawa & E Shiffert