Posted in Big Questions

This is My Buddha

I’d like to tell you the story of my Buddha. This Sunday, I’m giving a sermon on Bodhi Day, the anniversary of the Buddha’s enlightenment. So I’ve been sitting with my Buddha a bit this week, thinking about my journey as a Buddhist and meditator (among, of course, other things).

First of all, he was a gift from my friend Cole, who happens to be Pagan, not Buddhist. I thought initially I would repaint him, but I haven’t done that. Yet? I may still. But I like him as he is, too.

The important thing to note here is the rock he is holding. I found this rock on the shores of Lake Erie when I went to see my parents after my brother committed suicide in 2017.

After Anthony died and I rushed to get a plane ticket and get home for whatever funeral arrangements had to be made, as the plane circled to land and I saw the lake, tears suddenly flowed. I don’t like crying in public places. Disembarking a plane wasn’t a comfortable place to cry. But the lake holds a lot of memories, and my brother at the heart of a lot of them. Dad had a boat out near the islands (Kelley’s, Put-in-Bay, etc.) and on the weekends he had us, when the weather was good, we would go out to the boat and spend the entire weekend on it, fishing, swimming, visiting islands, sometimes just tooling around. So many memories.

I live now in land-locked Tennessee, and there are lakes, but nothing like Erie. When I landed and my dad picked me up, the first thing I said was, I want to go to the lake. So mom, dad, my aunt, and I went the next day.

When we got there, I wandered away from the others and sat by myself on the rocks with the wind whipping through my hair, crying. Erie doesn’t have an enchanting salt air smell like the ocean does. It smells like fish. But it’s a smell I love. Eventually, I returned to mom and dad, and pulled out my phone and put on “Sailing” by Christopher Cross, which was sort of our on the boat anthem. Dad cried. I cried. It’s good to cry together sometimes, even if it is public.

Finally, I strolled along the sandy part of the beach and picked up a couple of rocks. This one was the smallest, the smoothest. It was perfect, really. And then, in my carry-on bag on the way home, it cracked in half.

I kept it anyway. In fact, somehow it seemed more significant, cracked, than the other stones that stayed perfect in my bag.

I didn’t find comfort in the story that my brother is in heaven, and my Jehovah’s Witness parents couldn’t even say with certainty that he would be resurrected to live with them in their New System/Paradise. Instead, I found my comfort in Thich Nhat Hanh’s book No Death, No Fear. This is among the many passages in it that comforted me and still comfort me:

“When I make a pot of oolong tea, I put tea leaves into the pot and pour boiling water on them. Five minutes later there is tea to drink. When I drink it, oolong tea is going into me. If I put in more hot water, making a second pot of tea, he tea from those leaves continues to go into me. After I have poured out all the tea, what will be left in the pot is just spent tea leaves. The leaves that remain are only a very small part of the tea. The tea that goes into me is a much bigger part of the tea. It is the richest part.

“We are the same; our essence has gone into our children, our friends, and the entire universe. WE have to find ourselves in those directions and not in the spent tea leaves. I invite you to see yourself reborn in forms that say you are not yourself. […]

“You do not have to wait until the flame has gone out to be reborn. I am reborn many times every day. Every moment is a moment of rebirth. My practice is to be reborn in such a way that my new forms of manifestation will bring light, freedom, and happiness into the world.”

One day I was rearranging the altar where I meditate each morning, and I set my Buddha at the center. I realized that he was holding his hands as if he was holding something. I looked down on the shelf and there was my broken rock, the broken pieces of me. I gently placed them into the Buddha’s hands and trusted that if I sit there and practice looking deeply, I will see that the broken rock is both the same as it has always been and that it will never be the same again.

Posted in Big Questions

I’m sorry… Thank You

Hawaiian Volcano. Photo by Marc Szeglat, volcanoes.de

My meditation this morning left me with tears streaming down my face. It was a practice called Ho’oponopono, a practice of indigenous Hawaiian healers and shamans, and something I want to work with more. Here is the practice, a sort of mantra:

I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.

In the version I practiced, as part of Davidji’s 30 Days to Rebirth course on Insight Timer, the meditator imagines themselves as a child. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you. Then as a young adult, an adult, recently. Then imagining another person. I’m sorry, Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.

When I arrived at the last portion of the practice (which I think I will expand to make it more metta-style when I do it myself, maybe more on that later), my mind went immediately to my brother Anthony, who committed suicide in 2016. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.

I cannot ask his forgiveness any longer, and even if he was alive, I don’t think it’s a conversation he would have wanted to have. But it’s a conversation I can have with him now. I’m sorry that when you needed me, when everyone you loved was cutting you off, that I said okay to that practice and hurt you. They told me it was the loving thing to do. How can cutting someone out of your life ever be the loving thing to do? I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.

And back to myself, for doing the cutting off: I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you.

There’s so much to process here.

And as I journaled about this, I have shifted my practice of gratitude to a practice of delight. What, in this heavy but necessary moment, could I call a delight? I wrote this:

Delight: How about this? Crying. It is a thing I have always hated. I hate the not-in-control-of-myself feeling, especially in front of other people. But my grief — for Anthony — taught me that catharsis is important and needed, that repressed tears will weigh down your soul to the point of sickness, even to the point of death. I promised myself then, grieving, that whatever comes, I will let it come, and then let it go.

Did I ever see my adult brother cry? I remember when he was really little, and he would cry. My grandfather told him ‘Toughen up, be a man,’ and mom got mad. He’s not a man, she said, he’s a little boy, and there’s nothing wrong with tears. Which message did he internalize? Which one did I?

My Aunt Betty was famous in my family for her ability to cry gracefully. It was, mom and I said, because she didn’t bother trying not to cry, she just let the tears flow, and we (mom and I) would say she was beautiful, crying, and wish we could be beautiful crying too, and not resist it.

This morning in meditation I was beautiful crying. I did not resist it. In meditation — alone — I can let the tears flow, feel them drip from my chin, and feel deep gratitude for the way they wash through me like a summer storm and leave me feeling cleansed and purified. A little more whole.

Posted in A Day In The Life

Where I’ve Been

On February 2, I was at an event and had an attack of acute pancreatitis that was, I can tell you, among the most pain endurable. My doctor said, it’s like the alien in Aliens bursting out of you. Pretty accurate. I was in such agony that I was writhing, moving constantly, trying to find a slightly more comfortable position, to the point that I was sore the next day. My husband called it “agony aerobics.” Also accurate.

As it turned out, I had acute cholecystitis too — gallstones, causing the pancreatitis. My gallbladder was full of them. They took it out on the 7th. I stayed in the hospital until the 11th, and I’ve been recovering since then.

Why do doctors tell you some crazy conservative estimate of how long it is going to take you to recover from surgery? Two weeks, they told me. Maybe some people recover from having their gallbladder removed, but I am not one of them. Here I am, a month later, still struggling.

To literally add insult to injury, on the 25th I got a call that one of our best friends, Joe, had collapsed on his sister’s lawn and was life-flighted to Erlanger, and the next day, he was gone of a massive stroke. Joe gamed with us every week and was best man at my wedding and was just a light to everyone around him.

Needless to say, February has not been kind. I feel like I’ve been gone, on another planet, and am coming back to a world that went on without me (because of course it did), and am struggling to remember how to fit in and function. I have a month of course work to make up when I return to class on Monday. I haven’t worked in a month.

So this is me, tentatively stretching my muscles, writing something because despite everything, this is still the year I write. I still don’t know what, exactly. It doesn’t matter, so long as I am writing. I couldn’t even focus enough for several weeks to write in my journal, and that is really remarkable. It’s strange how pain makes it impossible to focus on anything but yourself, and I guess that’s true of emotional pain as well as physical pain. I’m struggling with both, but both are getting better.

I hope that life has been much gentler with you, and if not, please remember to be gentle with yourself. Cherish this day and the friends and family who inhabit the wonderful places in your life. Take nothing for granted. Love and light to you. ❤

Posted in Uncategorized

Write Through Pain

thomas-st-sunset-0903-tonemapped

The last day I posted here was the day my brother died.  I planned to write regularly, but life has a way of throwing a monkey wrench in things.

Anthony committed suicide.  (I hate that word “committed”, like it’s a crime).  He was not a person you would expect to commit suicide.  In fact, people visited his Facebook wall and said how much they would miss him because of his “love for life.”  How ironic, I thought.  And how true.

If some day I can offer up this experience to help someone get through something similar, and they ask me, How do you get through it, I will tell them how I got through it:  You write through it.  Meditation helps too.

When you are grieving, you set aside that hour each morning and it is a safe place to grieve, to rage, to do whatever it is you have to do.  You let all the feelings come because here’s a secret I have learned:  when you let the feelings come, they also go.  The crying grabs us, sometimes when we least expect it, but it passes like a summer storm.  I felt the need to write about that too.  So I’m going to share a couple of poems that I wrote the last couple of weeks.


 

Day After Suicide

The first thing I thought when I rolled out of bed was,
I am waking up this morning
And my brother is not.

The words my brother is dead
Keep echoing in my head like the refrain
Of some badly-written earworm. My brother is dead.

There are always a million questions you can never ask anymore
When someone slips the bonds that kept them here, and nearly all start with
WHY?

Because it hurts.
If someone with cancer passes from us,
We say
“Well, at least she’s not in pain anymore.”
Why don’t we ever say that about suicides? Is it a judgment we pass on them?
I’m saying it. He’s not in pain anymore. For only that I am grateful.

I will take this burden from you, my brother, I and everyone who loved you.
You have passed on your pain and we will carry it for you
Shed tears you didn’t shed because they weighed too heavily on your heart
Mourn the help you didn’t ask for and the things we didn’t say and the visits we didn’t visit

… and never will.

 


 

Grieving

“Tears like rain” is another old cliché
And I hate to say it but as clichés
Often are, it is true. Not in the way
You would think — they are both falling water.

It’s more in the scrubbed-clean feeling I have
When they have gone, ozone scenting the air
Rays peeking from behind brooding storm clouds
Crepuscular, slanting over land.

I catch my breath, seeing the glinting tears
Standing on my eyelashes like dewdrops
Ornamenting shrub leaves after the storm.
I am purified afterward, at peace, drained.

Sometimes the storm comes on violently
Without the slightest warning — he is gone.
And I am wracked like storm lashed boughs, and drenched
In sorrow… it passes, leaving me whole.

Other times it comes on gently, and I
Do not resist, letting rain kiss my cheeks
And I let them come, as a remembrance —
If I do not shed tears, I might forget.