Wednesday, December 15, 2021

Stopping, calming, and resting - Thich Nhat Hanh

There is no absolute truth of above and below, old age and youth, etc. For me, old age is fine. It is nice to be old! There are things young people cannot experience. Young people are like a source of water from the top of the mountain, always trying to go as quickly as possible. But when you become a river going through the lowland, you are much more peaceful. You reflect many clouds and the beautiful blue sky. Being old has its own joys. You can be very happy being an old person. When I sit with young monks and nuns, I feel that they are my continuation. I have done my best, and now they are continuing my being. This is interbeing, nonself.

When we look deeply into nonself, we see that the existence of every single thing is possible only because of the existence of everything else. We see that everything else is the cause and condition for its existence. We see that everything else is in it.

The Heart Sutra says that there is “nothing to attain.” We meditate not to attain enlightenment, because enlightenment is already in us. Everything is in your own heart. The seed of Buddhahood, the capacity to wake up and understand things as they are, is also present in each of us.
Don’t look outside yourself for happiness. Let go of the idea that you don’t have it. It is available within you.

We can embrace all of our feelings, even difficult ones like anger. Anger is a fire burning inside us, filling our whole being with smoke. When we are angry, we need to calm ourselves: “Breathing in, I calm my anger. Breathing out, I take care of my anger.” When we embrace our anger with right mindfulness, we suffer less right away.

We have to nourish our insight into impermanence every day. If we do, we will live more deeply, suffer less, and enjoy life much more. Living deeply, we will touch the foundation of reality, nirvana, the world of no birth and no death. Touching impermanence deeply, we touch the world beyond permanence and impermanence. We touch the ground of being and see that which we have called being and nonbeing are just notions. Nothing is ever lost. Nothing is ever gained.

Fear or hatred, born of ignorance, amplifies your pain.

There is a plant, well-known in Asia — it is a member of the onion family, and it is delicious in soup, fried rice, and omelets — that grows back in less than twenty-four hours every time you cut it. And the more you cut it, the bigger and stronger it grows. This plant represents dana paramita [Giving with pure motivation is called dana paramita (Sanskrit), or dana parami (Pali), which means "perfection of giving."]. We don’t keep anything for ourselves. We only want to give. When we give, the other person might become happy, but it is certain that we become happy. In many stories of the Buddha’s former lives, he practices dana paramita.

Without understanding, your love is not true love. You must look deeply in order to see and understand the needs, aspirations, and suffering of the one you love.

The greatest miracle is to be alive.

For love to be true love, it must contain compassion, joy, and equanimity. For compassion to be true compassion, it has to have love, joy, and equanimity in it. True joy has to contain love, compassion, and equanimity. And true equanimity has to have love, compassion, and joy in it. If you learn to practice love, compassion, joy, and equanimity, you will know how to heal the illnesses of anger, sorrow, insecurity, sadness, hatred, loneliness, and unhealthy attachments.

The second kind of nutriment is sense impressions. Our six sense organs — eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind — are in constant contact (sparsha) with sense objects, and these contacts become food for our consciousness.
When we drive through a city, our eyes see so many billboards, and these images enter our consciousness. When we pick up a magazine, the articles and advertisements are food for our consciousness. Advertisements that stimulate our craving for possessions, sex, and food can be toxic. If after reading the newspaper, hearing the news, or being in a conversation, we feel anxious or worn out, we know we have been in contact with toxins.
Movies are food for our eyes, ears, and minds. When we watch TV, the program is our food. Children who spend five hours a day watching television are ingesting images that water the negative seeds of craving, fear, anger, and violence in them.
We are exposed to so many forms, colors, sounds, smells, tastes, objects of touch, and ideas that are toxic and rob our body and consciousness of their well-being. When you feel despair, fear, or depression, it may be because you have ingested too many toxins through your sense impressions. Not only children need to be protected from violent and unwholesome films, TV programs, books, magazines, and games. We, too, can be destroyed by these media. If we are mindful, we will know whether we are “ingesting” the toxins of fear, hatred, and violence, or eating foods that encourage understanding, compassion, and the determination to help others.
With the practice of mindfulness, we will know that hearing this, looking at that, or touching this, we feel light and peaceful, while hearing that, looking at this, or touching that, we feel anxious, sad, or depressed. As a result, we will know what to be in contact with and what to avoid.
Our skin protects us from bacteria. Antibodies protect us from internal invaders. We have to use the equivalent aspects of our consciousness to protect us from unwholesome sense objects that can poison us.

Right Livelihood (samyag ajiva), you have to find a way to earn your living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion.

You might think, “I am the cause for mindfulness being present.” But if you look around, you will never find an “I.” The telephone’s ring, the clock’s chime, your teacher, and your Sangha can be favorable causes for mindfulness being present. Imagine yourself doing walking meditation on a beach, when suddenly the thought arises, “Do I have enough money in the bank?” If you return your awareness to your feet making contact with the sand, that is enough to bring you back to the present moment. You can do this because you have practiced walking meditation before. But it is your feet and not “I” that remind you to be present.

When I go to parties, people seem to be enjoying themselves. But when I look beneath the surface, I see so much anxiety and suffering there.

The fourth notion to be removed is life span. We think that we exist only from this point in time until this point in time, and we suffer because of that notion. If we look deeply, we will know that we have never been born and we will never die. A wave is born and dies, is higher or lower, more or less beautiful. But you cannot apply these notions to water. When we see this, our fear will suddenly vanish.

When we practice the first turning of the First Noble Truth, we recognize suffering as suffering. If we are in a difficult relationship, we recognize, “This is a difficult relationship.” Our practice is to be with our suffering and take good care of it. When we practice the first turning of the Second Noble Truth, we look deeply into the nature of our suffering to see what kinds of nutriments we have been feeding it. How have we lived in the last few years, in the last few months, that has contributed to our suffering? We need to recognize and identify the nutriments we ingest and observe, “When I think like this, speak like that, listen like this, or act like that, my suffering increases.” Until we begin to practice the Second Noble Truth, we tend to blame others for our unhappiness.

The Buddha taught many techniques to help us calm our body and mind and look deeply at them. They can be summarized in five stages:
(1) Recognition — If we are angry, we say, "I know that anger is in me."
(2) Acceptance — When we are angry, we do not deny it. We accept what is present.
(3) Embracing — We hold our anger in our two arms like a mother holding her crying baby. Our mindfulness embraces our emotion, and this alone can calm our anger and ourselves.
(4) Looking deeply — When we are calm enough, we can look deeply to understand what has brought this anger to be, what is causing our baby's discomfort.
(5) Insight — The fruit of looking deeply is understanding the many causes and conditions, primary and secondary, that have brought about our anger, that are causing our baby to cry. Perhaps our baby is hungry. Perhaps his diaper pin is piercing his skin. Our anger was triggered when our friend spoke to us meanly, and suddenly we remember that he was not at his best today because his father is dying. We reflect like this until we have some insights into what has caused our suffering. With insight, we know what to do and what not to do to change the situation.

Waking up this morning, I smile. Twenty-four brand new hours are before me. I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with the eyes of love.

The path that does not run away from but embraces our suffering is the path that will lead us to liberation.

A flower is not a flower. It is made only of non-flower elements — sunshine, clouds, time, space, earth, minerals, gardeners, and so on. A true flower contains the whole universe. If we return any one of these non-flower elements to its source, there will be no flower. That is why we can say, “A rose is not a rose. That is why it is an authentic rose.” We have to remove our concept of rose if we want to touch the real rose.

A human being is made up of only non-human elements.

Nothing can be born from nothing. When we touch the sheet of paper deeply, when we touch the cloud deeply, when we touch our grandmother deeply, we touch the nature of no birth and no death, and we are free from sorrow. We already recognize them in many other forms. This is the insight that helped the Buddha become serene, peaceful, and fearless.

If you plant corn, corn will grow. If you plant wheat, wheat will grow. If you act in a wholesome way, you will be happy. If you act in an unwholesome way, you water the seeds of craving, anger, and violence in yourself.

Buddhism is not a collection of views. It is a practice to help us eliminate wrong views.

We need to practice resting even when we are not sick. Sitting meditation, walking meditation, and mindful eating are good opportunities for resting. When you feel agitated, if you are able to go to a park or a garden, it is an opportunity for rest. If you walk slowly and remember to take it easy, if you are able to sit and do nothing from time to time, you can rest deeply and enter a state of true ease.

Yes, there is tremendous suffering all over the world, but knowing this need not paralyze us. If we practice mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful sitting, and working in mindfulness, we try our best to help, and we can have peace in our heart. Worrying does not accomplish anything. Even if you worry twenty times more, it will not change the situation of the world. In fact, your anxiety will only make things worse. Even though things are not as we would like, we can still be content, knowing we are trying our best and will continue to do so. If we don’t know how to breathe, smile, and live every moment of our life deeply, we will never be able to help anyone. I am happy in the present moment. I do not ask for anything else.

If we pollute the water and air, the vegetables and minerals, we destroy ourselves. We have to learn to see ourselves in things that we thought were outside of ourselves in order to dissolve false boundaries.

Right View cannot be described. We can only point in the correct direction.

Making an effort at the wrong time or place dissipates our energy.

To succeed in the practice, we must stop trying to prove that everything is suffering. In fact, we must stop trying to prove anything. If we touch the truth of suffering with our mindfulness, we will be able to recognize and identify our specific suffering, its specific causes, and the way to remove those causes and end our suffering.

We have to look deeply to see how we grow our food, so we can eat in ways that preserve our collective well-being, minimize our suffering and the suffering of other species, and allow the earth to continue to be a source of life for all of us. If, while we eat, we destroy living beings or the environment, we are eating the flesh of our own sons and daughters. We need to look deeply together and discuss how to eat, what to eat, and what to resist. This will be a real Dharma discussion.

Stopping, calming, and resting are preconditions for healing. If we cannot stop, the course of our destruction will just continue. The world needs healing. Individuals, communities, and nations need healing.

Young people harm themselves and others because life has no meaning for them. If we continue to live the way we do and organize society the way we do, we will continue to produce so many thousands of young people who will need to be imprisoned.

...very few school programs teach young people how to live — how to deal with anger, how to reconcile conflicts, how to breathe, smile, and transform internal formations. There needs to be a revolution in education. We must encourage schools to train our students in the art of living in peace and harmony.

The ocean of suffering is immense, but if you turn around, you can see the land. The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don’t wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy.

The Buddha said many times, “My teaching is like a finger pointing to the moon. Do not mistake the finger for the moon.

There is no need to put anything in front of us and run after it. We already have everything we are looking for, everything we want to become. We are already a Buddha so why not just take the hand of another Buddha and practice walking meditation? This is the teaching of the Avatamsaka Sutra. Be yourself. Life is precious as it is. All the elements for your happiness are already here. There is no need to run, strive, search, or struggle. Just be. Just being in the moment in this place is the deepest practice of meditation. Most people cannot believe that just walking as though you have nowhere to go is enough. They think that striving and competing are normal and necessary. Try practicing aimlessness for just five minutes, and you will see how happy you are during those five minutes.

When we practice Right Mindfulness, we see the seed of Buddhahood in everyone, including ourselves. This is Right View. Sometimes it is described as the Mother of All Buddhas (prajna paramita), the energy of love and understanding that has the power to free us. When we practice mindful living, our Right View will blossom, and all the other elements of the path in us will flower, also.

Letting go is an ongoing practice, one that can bring us a lot of happiness. When a Vietnamese woman who escaped her country by boat was robbed on the high seas of all her gold, she was so distraught that she contemplated suicide. But on shore, she met a man who had been robbed of even his clothes, and it helped her very much to see him smiling. He had truly let go. Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything — anger, anxiety, or possessions — we cannot be free.

Sometimes we feel as though we are drowning in the ocean of suffering, carrying the burden of all social injustice of all times. The Buddha said, “When a wise person suffers, she asks herself, ‘What can I do to be free from this suffering? Who can help me? What have I done to free myself from this suffering?’ But when a foolish person suffers, she asks herself, ‘Who has wronged me? How can I show others that I am the victim of wrongdoing? How can I punish those who have caused my suffering?’ ” Why is it that others who have been exposed to the same conditions do not seem to suffer as much as we do? You might like to write down the first set of questions and read them every time you are caught in your suffering.

Thich Nhat Hanh - The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation (1999)

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Elizabeth Jennings - Simply because they were human...

Elizabeth Joan Jennings, poet, born July 18 1926; died October 26 2001.
"She always made it clear that, whilst her life, which included a spell of severe mental illness, contributed to the themes contained within her work, she did not write explicitly autobiographical poetry."

Tuesday, September 07, 2021

Solitude is for me a fount of healing - Carl Jung

To Gustav Schmaltz
30 May 1957
Dear Schmaltz:

I understand your wish very well, but I must tell you at once that it does not fit in my with my situation. I am not getting on at 82 and feel not only the weight of my years and the tiredness this brings, but even more strongly, the need to live in harmony with the inner demands of my old age. Solitude is for me a fount of healing which makes my life worth living. Talking is often torment for me, and I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words. I have got my marching orders and only look back when there is nothing else to do. The journey is a great adventure in itself, but not one that can be talked about at great length. What you think of as a few days of spiritual communion would be unendurable for me with anyone, even my closest friends. The rest is silence! This realization comes clearer every day, as the need to communicate dwindles.

Naturally, I would be glad to see you for one afternoon for about two hours, preferably in Kusnacht, my door to the world. Around August 5 would suit me best, as I shall be home at then in any case. Meanwhile, with best greetings,

Yours ever,
- source

Tuesday, August 03, 2021

Learning to say ‘I’ instead of ‘We’ can be a painful task.

From 'You'll Get Over It' – The rage of bereavement (1996) - by Virginia Ironside

Feelings of bereavement are bad enough – being stricken with grief, fear, guilt, rage, helplessness, anxiety and shock. But just at this worst moment in your life, you find you’ve got to redefine yourself as well, something you’d find difficult enough even if you were feeling on top of the world. Shifting sands. As the future looms up uncertain and mysterious, the present has to change as well; and it’s no good looking to the past for reassurance either, because with a bereavement the past changes, too.

Keith Collins [1964 - Aug.2018)], Derek Jarman’s friend, was quoted by Pauline Peters in the Evening Standard as saying, after Derek died of AIDS [Derek Jarman (1942–1994) was an English film director, stage designer, diarist, artist, gardener, and author]:

“It’s not the obvious things that upset me. One cold day I thought I’d test myself and put on Derek’s coat. I felt nothing. Then I put my hand in the pocket and I found a 20p he’d left there and for some reason that set me off. I was crying my eyes out for hours. (...)
“I went to the supermarket and looked at the things I’d put in my trolley and I’d bought everything Derek liked. He had peculiar food fetishes, only cherries or only roll mops [a rolled uncooked pickled herring fillet]. I put everything back on the shelves and I wondered, ‘What exactly do I like?’
I thought I needed psychotherapy because I’d lost track of who I am. I kept asking myself: ‘What do I like doing?’ Derek didn’t like the television on, he didn’t like the noise. Perhaps I do like television? The frightening thing was I didn’t know. I thought I’d lost my bloody mind.”

So who are we now? As the person who has died has become someone else – ‘the deceased’ – so we have become someone else – ‘the bereaved’. Perhaps we are a widow or a widower, where before we were a wife or a husband. Perhaps we are orphans where before we were someone’s daughters or sons. When a brother dies, are we still sisters? Or are we only children? If our child has died, can we still call ourselves parents? And what have we lost? We have lost far, far more than just a person. We have lost a shared past, a shared future, possibly a sexual partner, a protector, friend, accountant, cook, driver, audience, scapegoat, fellow-parent, breadwinner, dependant, the bearer of our grandchildren or simply the only person who can set the video timer or remember people’s birthdays. We have also lost the person who we were with that person. We have lost part of ourselves.

Particularly difficult for partners is the reassertion of self, unless they have been very strong as individuals throughout the partnership. Learning to say ‘I’ instead of ‘We’ can be a painful task for two people who have grown into each other and become enmeshed.

The practice of suttee in India – in which a widow, having no place in society, is ritually burned after her husband’s death – has been virtually wiped out. But some widows in the West – and indeed widowers – often feel that they might as well be thrown on a bonfire, society treats them so shamefully. Small wonder that some widows and widowers carry on at home almost as if nothing has happened, buying sugar for their partner’s tea, though they themselves never take it, buying treats for partners unable to appreciate them.

Death makes us face up to our own mortality. When my father died and I was suddenly parentless, I felt pushed into the firing line. It was as if I’d been sitting in a trench all those years smoking my cigarettes and brewing tea in my billycan while everyone had been out there getting shot, and suddenly my officer had shouted: ‘OK, Ironside! Over the top!’ Now I was in no-parents’-land with snipers all around. I was next. We have to face the fact that we will die, that we will die alone. We have to face the truth that even with others we basically always are alone, and that unless we give it meaning, life is meaningless.

“The open confrontation of the loss of a loved one, and of the grief that follows it, can be an enriching experience…” (Rosamond Richardson, Talking about Bereavement) 
What utter nonsense! There is a school of thought that will not countenance the idea that death is simply a horrible, vile experience that usually brings only sadness, guilt, anger and pain in its wake. That’s only part of the story, it is claimed. Every cloud has a silver lining. And when it comes to bereavement, this lining is usually presented as some kind of enrichment. While there may be some argument for death making the scales fall from our eyes, the idea that it is enriching is, I believe, only another piece of false comfort, a euphemism for finding out more about the harsh reality of life, and a euphemism every bit as icky as phrases like ‘passing the great divide’ or ‘losing’ instead of ‘dying’.

The attitude is informed by the tyranny of positive thinking – the same sort of tyranny that obliges AIDS victims to twist their brains into thinking of themselves as People Living with AIDS rather than people dying of AIDS – and it is the last kind of attitude that you want forced on you when you’re bereaved. It is bad enough being told – if not literally, then obliquely – that you ought to be mourning when you are dealing with a lot of other far more complicated feelings than mere grief; but then to be told by someone with a saintly smile on his face that death brings with it its own rewards is, simply, cruel.

A widow said she looked at life after bereavement in a completely different way. ‘I look at a crowd and I think: “You just don’t have a clue. You’re going to die and you’ve no awareness of it at all. Your life is such a small space in time and yet you don’t think anything about it.”’

My widower friend, who did not find the death of his wife remotely enriching, wrote:
“Cruse has sent me some more pamphlets, including their newsletter, Chronicle. It contains a couple of articles by widowers and a list of books published by bereaved, but they served to emphasize that every case is unique to the person bereaved. My own experience would be no help to anyone else if I wrote it, because theirs would be not quite the same. None of the articles are about the very old who are left alone after many, many years of marriage, it isn’t realistic to speak of starting a new life, of trying to get something out of new possibilities such as travel, because the chances are you won’t feel well enough. The difference between having children and not is enormously important as well; there is nobody to whom I come first.”

Death is not a gift, it is not a harvest, nor does it enrich.

I have agonized long and hard over this final chapter and found it particularly difficult to get down to. Originally I had given it the title ‘Help’ and found that I shrank like an animal from the very word. It just sounds such a stupid, empty little word in the face of something as big as bereavement. ‘HELP!’ perhaps, as in a shriek from a terrified victim. But ‘Help’ as in sensible advice and giving it – I can feel my heart start to race, see the hairs rise on my wrist. Help? Help? There is no help. There is just pain, emptiness and time.

...way of keeping the hurt down to the minimum is to continue with every old habit that you can possibly maintain on your own. One widow gave herself a ‘husband present’ on her birthday to comfort herself, and wrote:
“The evenings were the hardest to bear. The ritual of the hot drink, the lumps of sugar for the two dogs, the saying of prayers – his boyhood habit carried on throughout our married life – the goodnight kiss. I continued the ritual because this too lessened pain, and was, in its very poignancy, a consolation.”

Writing of his life after his wife’s death after 51 years of marriage, a widower told me:
“When I am making my bed in the morning – something Anne normally did – I remember Anne, whilst ill in bed here four weeks ago, telling me every day that I was not much of a hand at bed-making. Now, I think I am getting quite good, and I say, quite happily, to Anne – ‘I’m not doing badly, am I?’ And I make my bed before breakfast, as Anne did normally.
When I’m cooking in the kitchen and I suddenly remember that I have not put an apron on, I chide myself as I don it – ‘Sorry darling, I forgot.’ I try and remember to clean my shoes every morning, as she would want me to do, and I am rather lazy about that unless reminded! I make a point of telephoning and thanking people the next day for hospitality, as Anne always did. In my attitudes towards other people I try and think how Anne would have behaved in similar circumstances and I attempt to emulate her.”

Make no major decisions like getting married again, emigrating, moving, getting a pet, or, perhaps, even dealing with the will, until a year has passed. (...) Never think that you have ‘got over’ a death. It is just at that moment that its memory will strike again.

Some people, rather than avoid the anniversary of a loved one’s death, make a special point of remembering it, even celebrating their birthday, or their wedding anniversary. The ritual serves two purposes: to try to bring some of the memory of the dead person back to life; and to make a focus for grief, a focus which stops it building up and exploding at some other, less organized, time.

A book on bereavement should never end because bereavement itself never ends. You never get over a death.

Friday, July 30, 2021

Letters are tangible evidence of the life you led together.

From 'You'll Get Over It' – The rage of bereavement (1996)

(...) society has a ridiculous idea about what is ‘correct’. If you let not a tear descend your cheek you’re cold and psychotic; if you cry and cry for years, heads are shaken, and your friends may even start shouting at you to pull yourself together.

Toby Young after his mother’s death:
"(...) The fact that I was expected to be grief-stricken in public made me even less inclined to be so. I wasn’t going to start grieving just because it was the socially acceptable thing to do; 
I wasn’t going to alter my behaviour just to meet with other people’s approval. But privately, in my dream life, things were going haywire. Dreams about my mother were not like other dreams in that she would be so much more real than people usually are. She wasn’t in colour, and I couldn’t smell her, but her presence was overwhelming. I was literally able to touch her. I used to wake up sobbing uncontrollably, feeling closer to her than I ever had in life.”

There are often feelings of understandable relief. When someone has been a pain in the neck all their life, why not be suffused with delight when they die? When someone has made you miserable, by all means go out and rejoice. When someone has suffered an agonizing illness, you may be a little sad when they die, but if you have an ounce of humanity in you, you will feel waves of relief for both your sakes.

Death is known as the last taboo. But the taboo that is even greater is happiness or relief at death. It is just ‘not on’. People do not want to hear it.

If adults’ reaction to death is territory uncharted enough, children’s reactions are even more of a mystery. Often they can grieve and cry along so-called ‘normal’ lines, and naturally should be encouraged to do so rather than artificially cheered up by inappropriate trips to zoos and McDonald’s. In fact it seems that children tend to recover more quickly than adults from even the worst disasters, but only if they are allowed to do it their way, and feel no inhibitions about behaving peculiarly or sadly if they wish.

(...) humour, particularly gallows humour, is another extremely common reaction to death. In the first few days or weeks after a death, bereaved people may be appalled to find how much they are laughing. Laughing like drains. Screaming with laughter. The shock of a death makes everything vivid, and we often feel much more aware of our emotions than we normally do, feel strangely present in a world in which we normally just act like robots. Our senses may become acute, and since laughter and tears are good bedfellows, it’s not surprising that a certain hilarity often prevails, particularly during the days of shock, around the funeral.

I am certain that one of the reasons that wills are the subject of so much hatred – as the old saying goes, "when there’s a will there’s a war" – is because the possessions represent the love that you have lost from the person who died. That is why beneficiaries can fight so hard over apparently trivial things.

We each have our own ways of coping and if keeping objects helps, then keep; if chucking helps, then chuck. Psychologists would have us believe that those who keep everything are trying to deny that anything has happened; and guess what they say about people who chuck everything out? Yup. They, too, are denying. They are either rewriting history (‘He was a useless partner, really, so let’s get rid of him because I don’t really miss him’) or denying the existence of the person in the first place.

“The loss of a loved one… can only partially be shared… the work of mourning is by its very nature something which takes place in the watches of the night and in the solitary recesses of the mind.”
- Anthony Storr, [(1920 – 2001) was an English psychiatrist, psychoanalyst, and author]

This public horror of death reveals itself in the announcements in the Deaths column in The Times. The word ‘died’ is only rarely used. 95% of the announcements run along the lines of: ‘Brown – Tom, beloved father of Susan, suddenly at home on Wednesday…’ or ‘Jones – on October 11th peacefully in hospital, George, much-loved husband of Pam…’ These sentences are meaningless. Tom Brown could just as easily have been finishing the crossword at home on Wednesday, and George Jones could just as easily have recovered in hospital as died there. One day perhaps we will regard this style of announcing a death as bizarre as the Victorian habit of coyly referring to chicken-legs as drumsticks.

‘When my husband died I went round to my sister,’ said one widow. ‘She had, I know, been devastated by the death of our mother two years before, but I wasn’t expecting her reaction as I walked through the door. “Don’t bring your grief here!” she said. I walked out and have not spoken to her since.’ 
Perhaps this woman could not cope with her own feeling of bereavement being roused, like a sleeping dragon, from its cave; perhaps she, like many other people, simply found it incredibly difficult to deal with other people’s emotions. It isn’t because they’re unkind. They’re just shy, embarrassed or tormented by the experience of another person’s tears or rage. They think that if they mention the death you will get upset and, as they don’t wish to upset you, they keep quiet. But what they don’t realize is that the bereaved person is just dying to talk.

(...) despite the deeply personal nature of the feelings, despite the near-impossibility of anyone being able to ‘get right’ a response, we try, like moths around a flame, to confide, to open up to people, to explain, to repeat, to share, to find some kind of balm from someone outside, even if it’s just an acknowledgement that we have been bereaved. (...) when we do communicate our feelings after bereavement, if we don’t get silence or fear, we almost certainly get the wrong response. 85 % of the time you receive what you feel is a verbal slap in the face – all the worse because it’s not intended as such; it’s intended as kindness. The truth is that very few people are good sympathisers when it comes to death. Thus, the well-meaning but incredibly hurtful remarks of other people are yet another burden the bereaved have to bear. Since the bereaved are super-sensitive, if anyone gives them a piece of advice that is just the tiniest bit off-key, they are extra-quick to take offence.

The following collection of ‘helpful’ remarks was gathered with the help of two widows who consoled themselves in their bereavements by compiling, between them, a notebook containing the most kindly but insensitive remarks made by well-wishers. (...)
At least you have your writing/children/painting/work…’ But I had them all before and I had the dead person alive. It’s like saying to someone whose hands have been chopped off, ‘At least you have your feet.

The Reverend ’Seye Olumide, whose five children died in a fire, also criticized those people who dictated ways of feelings to the bereaved. In an article, ‘The Unexpected Death of Children through Disaster – a Personal View’, he wrote:
“There is a group of people, professionals and lay, who are ‘fussers’. They wish to inform the bereaved of the expected emotional and dietary needs. Crying is good. Eating is excellent. Tea is particularly beneficial. You must talk about it. Alcohol is essential but only in moderation. Not crying is a symptom of repressed emotion or delayed shock, and most unhealthy. Thought is distorted in the newly bereaved, so let’s assume they are invalids, and self-determination is very much frowned upon. They are going to go mad.
I dispute all this. Crying is wonderful for the human body (if you are able to, I could not) either alone or in the arms of loving and caring friends and relatives. It is not essential to ‘perform’ in public. Food is often unessential for days and the stomach is a good regulator of need. Tea, coffee, water, fruit juice are good but have no curative powers. Alcohol is an allowable weakness when overindulged in on infrequent occasions. Not crying may mean many things ranging from being too busy (with immediate practical problems) to not wishing to cry in the presence of total strangers…”

With the condolence letters we can start to look at the more positive side, and the ways in which bereaved people do find the most help and comfort from other people. It is not so much what the people say in these letters – though they rarely dare put into writing the kind of fatuous remarks they say – but the fact that they have pulled out a sheet of paper, got out their pens, written something down, stuffed it into an envelope, stuck a stamp on it and put it in the postbox. It is this act of letter-writing that is the comfort, far more than the content. ‘The comfort lies in the fact that the pile of letters indicated your grief has some importance, however brief,’ wrote Mary Stott. Letters are tangible evidence of the life you led together.

Good friends are people who don’t mind hearing the details of the death again and again and again. Good friends are people who give you a hug and say, ‘I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to say,’ instead of dreaming up a platitude. 
(...) friends should never underestimate what great relief can come from practical help. You really have to be a psychic superstar not to offend a bereaved person by words; but chores carried out, little tasks performed – no one can possibly misinterpret the kindness behind such practical gestures. But it’s important that if help is offered it must be given unconditionally. (...) 
Good friends never say: ‘If there’s anything I could do, let me know.That’s not good enough. A good friend suggests something, or even looks around and sees something that would be useful and just does it. Cooking a meal, shopping, cleaning the house, mowing the lawn, giving a lift in the car, or, often most useful of all, offering to help go through the dead person’s personal effects.

The problem is that other people cannot know when you need them unless you tell them. (...) And of course it is then that you have to ask for it – which is always difficult.

Tuesday, July 20, 2021

people tend to mourn bad relationships more than good ones

From 'You'll Get Over It' – The rage of bereavement (1996)

When faced with powerlessness, the temptation is, naturally, to ‘do something’ – which is why the funeral service can have a healing effect. Only a day after the death of his wife my widower friend, in a manic phase that is also common in bereaved people, suddenly lurched into wild, energetic action, wondering if he should get a job as a voluntary worker, whether he should move, whether he should get a dog. He was desperately grasping for some control over his shattered life. But the balance of his mind was completely disturbed and it is small wonder that the advice of all bereavement counsellors is to make no drastic changes in one’s life until at least a year after the death of a loved one, however strong the temptation to ‘do something’ may be.

One of the reasons people need to talk so much about a death is because they suffer from compulsive feelings of wanting to take control, again and again and again. Telling people is not always just born out of a desire to talk things out, or a desire for sympathy, or as a way of getting the truth to sink, slowly, in. It’s a way of clawing back the power into your life. You have no power over the death but you do have power over the story.

(...) to be absolutely honest about grief you have to admit that there is no pattern, no one way, no two or even three ways, not necessarily any emotion even, perhaps just dreadful headaches and emptiness. There is no certainty about anything at all. All we can do is our best either to fight the feelings – or get the courage to submit to them. Or to accept that we either have none or can’t bear to feel them.

(...) bereaved people sing the ‘If only’ song even when the person who has died was a hundred years old and died simply of old age. ‘If only’ is a lullaby that offers hideous comfort, to soften the terrible truth: when death comes we are powerless. There was nothing, nothing at all, that we could have done to prevent it.

Suicide, of course, carries its own terrible form of guilt. For the suicide does seem to be saying that even the love of his closest friends and relations isn’t strong enough to keep him wanting to stay alive; even the thought of their pain doesn’t deter him. Suicides seem to be saying to the world and, specifically, to their friends and relatives: ‘Fuck you!’

Toby Young got his guilty feelings over in advance. He was lucky enough to be able to squeeze in the words he wanted to say to his dying mother in time.
“When she was dying – she died of cancer – I was acutely conscious of the need to ‘clear the air’. Nothing in particular, just the usual stuff: apologize for being such an awful son, assure her I’d be nicer to my sister, tell her I loved her. But I knew that saying these things was solely for my benefit. That is, I wanted to tell her things that I knew I’d regret not telling her; I wanted to avoid future guilt.”

‘Bereavement is bad enough without adding to your distress by having guilt feelings about not mourning enough,’ wrote Dr R.M. Youngson in Grief: Rebuilding Your Life after a Bereavement. ‘The intensity of your grief is a measure of the seriousness of your loss, not a measure of the virtue of the one who has died. Your loss has to do with many things beside that. The one who has died has not suddenly become a saint.’

Guilt, for whatever reason, and however understandable, is a completely negative emotion. It is an emotion like a wasting disease.

Unfocused anger is perhaps the worst of all to bear because it is so burdensome and unpredictable. It is like heaving around a load of shit encased in an extremely thin bag, one that is liable to split at any time.

‘Rage creeps up on you unawares, too,’ wrote Mary Stott in the Guardian, after the death of her husband. ‘I was coming back from London and as I walked along a crowded compartment and saw people laughing and talking and reading and sleeping, something in my mind went briefly out of gear. Their normality was hideous to me. I was in hostile country, an enemy alien.’

Rage is a pretty antisocial emotion at the best of times, even when it is directed against deserving targets. (...) Rage, anger, fury – these are not things easily shared. Friends much prefer to hear you crying down the phone than spewing bile. They would prefer that you rang up saying you wanted to kill yourself and could they help, than hear you crazed with bitterness, resentfulness and vengeful thoughts about, probably, completely innocent people.
Small wonder, then, that most people keep their evil feelings to themselves, festering inside or leaking out in insidiously destructive ways. Small wonder that they often repress the feelings completely, springing on them with both feet and hurtling into mad eulogies about their loved ones. Rather than rage against the dead person, they fantasize about how marvellous they were; rather than express their fury, they spend fortunes on the funeral to disguise the intensity of their angry feelings. They talk only of the dead person’s good points, they won’t have a word heard against them, they cry, they worship at the feet of the dead one… then they often get ill and think: ‘And now I get ill! On top of everything else!’ when in fact they are ill with repressed anger and loathing.

Not everybody feels grief and sadness. They can, instead, feel simply ‘terrible’ for a long period. And even in cases where the bereaved do feel grief, it certainly doesn’t always come at the ‘right’ time, whenever that may be. It may be delayed, sometimes for years. For instance, a woman who loses her husband may remain dry-eyed while she still has her husband’s loving Alsatian to look after. How very brave she is, say her friends. (How very cold, they think.) But when the Alsatian dies, all hell is let loose. (And how very weird she is, too, think her friends, crying more over a dog than over her husband!) But although she is ostensibly crying over the Alsatian, perhaps she has cunningly delayed the grief she felt for her husband and transferred the feelings she had for him on to her dog. When the dog dies – the ballon goes up.

And anyway, what are we grieving for? Usually a million and one things, of which only one is the actual person who has died
One man’s father died, and the loss left him cold. He thought nothing of it. But six weeks later the family gardener died, of whom he had been very fond. He was beside himself. He was also beside himself with confusion and shame, because his grief seemed so utterly inappropriate. But was he in fact grieving for his father when he mourned the gardener? Or was he crying over what his father wasn’t – crying over the fact that here was a lovely old man who had nurtured the plants and the earth in a way his father had never nurtured him? Was he crying about the loss of a father he had never actually had? Or – and so often one overlooks the obvious – was he simply crying over the gardener more because he loved him more?

Each loss – including my father’s death – brought back memories of other older losses; and certainly people who have suffered loss of any kind in their childhood, and who have not properly resolved their feelings, or managed at least to put the episodes properly behind them, feel perhaps most poignantly every single loss thereafter, each new loss hitting them like a bigger and bigger snowball, picking up more grief and horror on the way.

It does seem that the more in tune you are with life, the more you live in the present day, the less emotional baggage you carry with you in your daily life, and the happier the relationship you had with whoever it was who died, the more easy, surprisingly, it is to feel sad – and then move on. But the more loss a relationship contained, and the more emotionally uncomfortable the bereaved person is with his own life anyway, the worse can be the effect of a death. ‘My friend spent her life being really horrible and resentful about her mother, but when she died, and I said: “You must be relieved,” she astounded me by bursting into tears. She really was desperately and genuinely unhappy,’ said one woman.

Since people tend to mourn bad relationships more than good ones, and because of the confused feelings of guilt involved, they may over-compensate to make up for their bad feelings.

Often it is not so much the person we mourn but the role they played in our lives. Anyone who has cared for someone sick mourns not only the passing of the person they were looking after, but also the loss of a full-time job. The death causes the most terrible void in their lives, which makes them feel not just unhappy but completely unwanted, useless, empty. The feeling of howling loneliness after a bereavement is unlike the loneliness felt at any other time. You feel you are just a speck in the universe; you may even feel that you yourself don’t exist at all (one of the most frightening feelings in the world) because you always felt in the past that your existence was defined by the love of the one who now is dead.

In Living with Fear, Professor Isaac Marks writes: ‘Grief is a special kind of separation anxiety. Generally, it takes some time for people to accept the death of a loved one, and until they do, separation anxiety is marked.’ 
And when a partner dies, we may not just feel sad because we miss their companionship; we may feel lonely because we lose all kinds of other things that they provided. In a partnership, we may have in some ways lived through them, basking in each other’s glory. Or our partner may have played the role of mother, father, son, daughter, protector, provider, lame duck, ego-booster… Any death of a close relative, from partner, to child, to parent, pushes us into a new role, and we miss the familiarity of our old one. But it’s loneliness that prompts the tears, and it’s small wonder that it’s quite a common experience for the bereaved to feel overcome with inexpressible longings, if their loved one is buried, to get out there and actually dig him or her up. Bring him back! Why not? It’s a perfectly natural primitive urge.

Some partners miss particularly the comfort of physical closeness. One widow, commenting on her loneliness, said: ‘No one touches me any more. Not just sexually, but simply as another human being.’

(...) there is a cruel current school of thought that argues that if you don’t cry, something dreadful will happen to you. ‘Healing tears’ they are called. ‘Have a good cry then everything will be all right.’ Certainly a good cry can make everything temporarily all right, but tears are not an end in themselves. After all, some people, as we’ll see later, get stuck in their grief, and just go on crying and crying till they die. So much for the healing power of tears.

Tom Stoppard, in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, wrote: ‘Death isn’t romantic… death is not anything… death is… not. It’s the absence of presence, nothing more… a gap you can’t see, and when the wind blows through it makes no sound.’

After her partner, Mel Calman, died [(1931-1994), Calman died of a heart attack at the Empire Cinema in Leicester Square, London, while watching the film “Carlito's Way” with writer Deborah Moggach, his partner for the last ten years of his life], the novelist Deborah Moggach [a patron of Dignity in Dying and campaigns for a change in the law on assisted suicide] shared similar feelings of futility. ‘Grief is a foreign country,’ she wrote. 
“One crosses the border and there is no going back. I remember, in the past few days, looking in my diary and seeing appointments written in it. Appointments for what? For who? Me. 
I went into a hardware shop to buy a corkscrew and stood beside a stand full of gadgets. They were all for pitifully silly things. I thought: Mel has died and somebody has actually thought of inventing something to cut pizza edges and take the stones out of cherries. Why? 
One feels frail and elderly, afraid of honking cars and of people shouting in the street. One dreads official letters – bank letters, parking summonses – because they seem so impossibly difficult.”

It is sometimes easier to dog-paddle in the gloom than strike out for the shore. Perhaps it is impossible to strike out for the shore. And anyway, it is rarely a bereaved person’s choice. If they are the sort of people who stay trapped in their grief, we should respect their feelings. (...) People around bereaved people can get impatient far too soon.

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Death is always an extraordinary surprise

From 'You'll Get Over It' – The rage of bereavement (1996)

True, in books and movies, most people’s first reaction on hearing that someone has died is to burst into tears, but, as anyone who has been through a bereavement knows, these are almost always tears of shock rather than grief. They are the tears you might shed after a dreadful road accident, or even a loud explosion, no more than a release of emotion without any particular feeling behind it. But a far more common reaction to bereavement is one of white-faced disbelief, a light-headed sense of unreality, a stunned feeling as though you had been hit over the head with a hammer. It doesn’t matter whether you have been prepared for death or not. Death is always an extraordinary surprise. However much we know rationally that all living things die in the end, we are always struck by astonishment when they go.

"The long-drawn-out horror of the previous weeks had produced in me a kind of inert anaesthesia; it was as if I had been so battered and beaten that I was like some hunted animal which, exhausted, can only instinctively drag itself into a hole or lair." 
(Leonard Woolf after Virginia Woolf’s suicide)

Sometimes people can feel so tense that all their muscles seem to lock, making it difficult to speak. The shock may manifest itself in symptoms like hammering in the head, knees like jelly and a terrible feeling of unreality. (...) and then these agonizing symptoms might be followed by a strange period of rather sinister calm, as if the body had provided its own tranquillizer to deal with a situation too difficult to handle. (...) The body has a safety mechanism [numbness] that protects us from the tidal wave of emotion that might otherwise push our heart rate and blood pressure up to a physically dangerous level.
You may forget things completely, you may feel totally cut off, you may be unable to taste your food, hear properly or even see as well as you used to. You may become surprisingly clumsy, finding plates falling from your hands, and suffering minor car accidents.

Sometimes these feelings of shock can appear quite a while after the event. In Death Plus Ten Years, Roger Cooper, the businessman kept hostage for years in Iran, wrote:
“I am convinced that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of cases of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder go undiagnosed every year. One does not have to have been in combat, gaol or a towering inferno to suffer from this disease: a bitter divorce, a bereavement or even witnessing an accident can trigger it off. It is all the more insidious because of the delayed reactions: the key element in its rather cumbersome title is the word ‘Post’. It does not strike until the traumatic event is over and nature has lowered her guard.”
Roger Cooper’s symptoms manifested themselves in an inability to face driving, or train transport, difficulty with minor tasks like cooking and household jobs, panic attacks, hating unnecessary noise, bad sleeping, nightmares, exhaustion and memory loss, particularly short-term.

...pain is pain, whether it is suffered by the body or by the mind; and sometimes the body can bear pain that the mind cannot.

After the death of anyone close, people are often driven into the streets, looking vaguely for ‘something’. They’re not really aware of what it is they’re looking for, but they may be compelled to roam the town, endlessly window-shopping, restlessly pacing the streets as if hunting. The bereaved will often go for long walks, not really aware of what they’re looking for, just knowing that they have to be out, pacing. It is as if some old animal instinct takes over; despite the intellectual knowledge that someone is dead, the muscles seem to respond to some age-old message, and demand to be used in walking, hunting, searching…

Usually the fact of death has to be repeated and repeated – and often the bereaved do this themselves, by endlessly telling people about their loss, and discussing it, to ram the point home. Dreams perform the same function, reminding one again and again of the fact, with the cruel contrast between the dream and reality, that no, the person is in fact dead.

Another physical symptom of bereavement can be a deadly euphoria – a feeling of which, naturally, many people feel ashamed. It’s not to say that people are necessarily celebrating a death, but they do often feel an unusual kind of sweetness and sharpness about life. Everything is enhanced. Doctors put this down, probably rightly, simply to the increase in adrenalin caused by shock, rather than to any kind of spiritual experience (...) Of course, in the depth of misery you don’t feel in the least blessed. You feel abandoned and betrayed; and yet at the same time you may find your vision leaping into strange focus. Everything important is heightened. Everything unimportant drops away. For a few months, at least, experiences are distilled, sharp – and real. Or apparently real.

One bereaved mother wrote:
"I felt a tremendous empathy with the whole human race, sensed the common fragility and vulnerability. Whether it was the punk kid, or little old lady, or bowler-hatted businessman, we were all the same, all in this together. This was very important and precious… It is as if, in the hollow pain, while digging around in the apparent ruin of the present, I struck on the edge of something so much bigger than myself and my family, and yet at one with it. It put our grief into perspective alongside the whole human situation. We all share this together; some in this lifetime – especially in the third world – have a most appalling burden to carry. None is exempt; and this common bond can bring an understanding and empathy which is strengthening and supporting."

In fact, sometimes the physical feelings never go completely but linger for ever. And even if the shock itself does fade, there are plenty of other snares on which anyone in the bereavement journey can get snagged. Unfortunately the tingles in the fingertips usually herald not the advent of normality, but rather, like the witches’ pricking thumbs in Macbeth, a premonition of something wicked this way coming. Something like fear or guilt or anger or all kinds of other dark feelings that we would prefer to pretend do not exist. But those come later. First, some practicalities have to be attended to. The undertaker. The funeral. And the whole ritual of bereavement.

Not so long ago, a bereaved person would wear, at least, a black armband, a visual symbol that would command some kind of respect from strangers in the street, even if this consisted only of a lowering of the eyelids, or a halting of a bubbling laugh. But over the last century the custom of wearing armbands, or just the colour black for long periods, has disappeared. (...) here and now, in the last part of the twentieth century, bereaved families are not expected to rip their trackie bottoms, or lower their minimalist blinds. No, we are expected to ‘get over’ a death pretty damn snappily. Our grief has a sell-by date on it. Now death and grief have been pushed underground and people just don’t want to know.

Condolence letters are the first signs of our shaky ritual, though even this habit is dying out with the art of letter-writing itself.

(I have to say here that there is still a big difference between seeing a dead body at the undertaker’s and seeing one untouched at home. ‘The worst thing I ever did was to see the body of my friend who had died of AIDS,’ said one 25-year-old man. ‘He was the colour of pale blueberry and when I kissed his cheek he was freezing with death, only a few hours after he had gone. Since then, I’ve always felt uncomfortable about the way death is portrayed in films. Bodies dead for days still look pink and healthy. But in real life it’s nothing like that. People really do turn into corpses.’)

Few are the mourners who don’t look at that wooden box and think, at the very least: ‘Cripes, one day it’s going to be me in there.’ Is it surprising, therefore, that a funeral can be such a traumatic event for the bereaved? Not only does the event emphasize that someone has gone, it also emphasizes the inescapable fact of our own mortality. Two body-blows in one day.

In When Parents Die, Rebecca Abrams wrote:
"More than anything I loathed the sanctification of my father, a process that began to take place almost immediately he was dead. I knew him as bad-tempered, difficult, anti-social, allergic to physical exercise. And I knew him also as clever and sensitive and rather fun and mischievous. All of these made up the father I loved. It was terrible to hear him turned into some kind of saint. People said things that simply weren’t true. It didn’t help me at all, this enshrining in saintly characteristics. It merely increased the sense of unreality, the feeling that nothing was real or sure or reliable any more. And it increased my sense of profound isolation; the sensation that I was utterly alone with my loss and grief. No one understood how I felt, because no one understood what I had lost."

(...) nothing goes according to plan. Those who look forward to being able to collapse with tears often remain tense and dry-eyed; those who think they will keep a stiff upper lip may have to be helped, staggering with grief, from the church.

Even nowadays, children are often left at home during funerals, like dogs. Why should children be excluded from funerals when they’re so welcome at christenings and weddings? Not only can their presence be therapeutic for other adults and useful reminders that life, whatever death may do, goes on; not only is it unlikely that very young children will be upset, simply because they have only a vague idea of the concept of death. But not attending the funeral of someone close can be tremendously damaging for some people in later life. Middle-aged people who were not allowed to attend the funerals of grandparents or even parents, can still feel full of rage and sorrow.
‘My father was ill one day and I was sent on holiday for two weeks to friends,’ wrote one woman. 'When I was returned, my father was gone and I was told that he was with God. Oh well, I thought, he’ll be home soon. It took four years for me to fully realize the truth, that he was never coming back, that he was dead. My overwhelming emotion was anger that I had been lied to and not allowed to mourn and share grief with my mother and those closest to him.'

In Patrimony Philip Roth described his own feelings when visiting his mother’s grave:
"...even if you succeed and get yourself worked up enough to feel their presence, you still walk away without them. What cemeteries prove, at least to people like me, is not that the dead are present but that they are gone."

"No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.
At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in. It is so uninteresting. Yet I want the others to be about me. I dread the moments when the house is empty. If only they would talk to one another and not to me…" 
(C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed)

Bereaved parents suddenly panic when their children drive the car. They may find they cannot bear those close to them to go away. Childishly they fear they may never see them again.

All change is frightening, and for bereaved partners their fear may be of a very basic kind. They may be terrified, like children, of simply ‘being on their own’. This fear is separate from the uncomfortable and upsetting feelings of having a new role and a new place in your social and family jigsaw; this is a more basic, primitive fear associated with survival. Sleeping on your own… (Did the burglars read about his funeral? Will they decide that tonight’s the night to prey on a lonely widow at home?) Cooking for yourself… (I can’t do it, I don’t understand the oven, will it explode or will I starve to death?) Coming back to an empty house… (Will I go mad with no one to talk to? Who am I?) Attempting new and unfamiliar household tasks… (Did I fix that plug correctly? Will I be electrocuted? How do I know when the car needs a service? Maybe it will break down tomorrow when I’m on the motorway.) Filling in forms… (I’m sure I’ve forgotten something. I don’t think the bank understands what I meant. I’ll face financial ruin. I’ll be on the streets…)

Wednesday, July 07, 2021

Give up waiting as a state of mind.

...Waiting basically means you want the next moment but not this one… [Do mini-meditations during the day (while waiting for an elevator, for instance) - an opportunity for awakening.]

- Conversations on Compassion with Eckhart Tolle (2013)

Many people live habitually as if the present moment were an obstacle that they need to overcome in order to get to the next moment, and imagine living your whole life like that. Always, this moment is not quite good enough because you need to get to the next one.

The greater part of human pain is unnecessary. It is self created as long as the unobserved mind runs your life... The pain that you create now is always some form of non acceptance, some form of unconscious resistance to what is. On the level of thought, the resistance is some form of judgment. On the emotional level, it is some form of negativity.

The great Zen master Rinzai, in order to take his students' attention away from time, would often raise his finger and slowly ask: "What, at this moment, is lacking?" A powerful question that does not require an answer on the level of the mind. It is designed to take your attention deeply into the Now. A similar question in the Zen tradition is this: "If not now, when?"

The future is usually imagined as either better or worse than the present. If the imagined future is better, it gives you hope or pleasurable anticipation. If it is worse, it creates anxiety. Both are illusory.

- The Power of Now (1997)

A true spiritual teacher does not have anything to teach in the conventional sense of the word, does not have anything to give or add to you, such as new information, beliefs, or rules of conduct. The only function of such a teacher is to help you remove that which separates you from the truth ... The words are no more than signposts. there not only one moment, ever? Is life ever not this moment? This one moment, now, is the only thing you can never escape from. The one constant factor in your life. No matter what happens. No matter how much your life changes. One thing is certain. Its always now. Since there is no escape from the now, why not welcome it, become friendly with it.

Do you treat this moment as if it were an obstacle to be overcome? Do you feel you have a future moment to get to that is more important? Almost everyone lives like this most of the time. Since the future never arrives, except as the present, it is a dysfunctional way to live. It generates a constant undercurrent of unease, tension, and discontent.

Whenever you meet anyone, no matter how briefly, do you acknowledge their being by giving them your full attention, or are you reducing them to a means to an end, a mere function or role? What is the quality of your relationship with the cashier at the supermarket, the parking attendant, the repair man, the customer?

- Stillness Speaks (2003)

The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral. There is the situation or the fact, and here are my thoughts about it. Life isn't as serious as the mind makes it out to be.

Many poets and sages throughout the ages, have observed that true happiness (I call it the joy of Being) is found in simple, seemingly unremarkable things.

When you practice routine activities, use those routine activities and be completely present.

Stress is caused by being "here" but wanting to be "there." Give up waiting as a state of mind. When you catch yourself slipping into waiting, snap out of it. Come into the present moment. Just be and enjoy being.

To be aware of little, quiet things, you need to be quiet inside. A high degree of alertness is required. Be still. Look. Listen. Be present.

The most important step out of the karmic law is forgiveness.

См. также на русском языке: Экхарт Толле (Eckhart Tolle) и иллюстрированная книга «Стражи-хранители Бытия» (Guardians of Being)

Saturday, July 03, 2021

You do not work through bereavement. It works through you

From 'You'll Get Over It' – The rage of bereavement (1996)

Virginia Ironside (b. 1944) has been a journalist all her life. She was a rock columnist for the Daily Mail in the 1960s. She has written several novels and children’s books. She has been a problem page editor [agony aunt] – at “Woman” and the “Sunday Mirror” – for many years.

***Dedication (...) for Peter Black, who died when I was writing this book, two years after his wife (‘She first deceased, he for a little tried/ To live without her, liked it not, and died’)

Before my father died I thought I knew a bit about bereavement. And I did. A bit. I knew about the shock and the crying; I knew about feeling special, and I had also got a whiff of my own mortality. I knew, intellectually at least, about the anger people are meant to feel when they’re bereaved, and in my job as an agony aunt I would blithely send out leaflets to bereaved people — leaflets which told of the stages of grief and were full of kindly, sympathetic advice.
Then my father died. And nothing made sense any more. I was in a new world, with a new language and new emotions. I was stunned, and crazy. Not with grief, which, it turned out, was only a small part of the whole ghastly process, but with other shameful feelings of rage, greed, loathing, hatred for life — and with new, surprising interests in religion and the afterlife...

As one who tends to find that books offer me the most comfort, understanding and good sense, I read and I read and I read, trying desperately to understand what I was feeling. I devoured every newspaper interview with bereaved people, and read as many books on bereavement as I could. And with a few exceptions in which the authors shared their personal experience, nearly every book was written as if by an interested anthropologist about another world. Detached. Patronizing. And often, it seemed to me, dishonest.
There were too many words around like ‘mourning’, ‘healing’, ‘weeping’, ‘lamenting’, ‘wounds’ that ‘opened anew’ – not to mention a lot of guff about seasons; or the sentimentality came in poems like Canon Holland’s famous piece of nonsense (entitled ‘Death is Nothing at All’) which claims that the dead person is only in the next room and that: ‘All is well.’
After my father’s death I wanted to write a book that told the truth, a truth which says: All is not well. Bereavement is a beastly business. Or, as one man I talked to put it: ‘Death stinks.’

(...) it would be too cruel to give the reader the idea that books that offer comfort and help are useless. Not at all. It often depends on one’s mood, anyway, whether the advice and attitudes come across as a load of rubbish, or as sensitive insights. When you’re bereaved you’re so all over the place that you might find a book heart-warming on a Tuesday and mindless nonsense on a Wednesday.

I should probably have known there was something funny going on, because the people in my life who have died have suffered, it seemed to me, rather odd and miserable deaths. It never occurred to me that this was actually the norm. I still went along with the general view that most people pass away peacefully with a close relative near by holding their bony old hands and mouthing: ‘I love you.’

The truth is that the way most people die is often pretty grim. The current thinking in the States that we should all aim for ‘a good death’ is a pernicious fantasy, along with ideas that relationships can be perfect, and that bereavements can be successfully ‘worked through’, making us bitterly disappointed when things don’t work out like in the fairy stories we’ve been fed. (There are some bereavement books that talk, believe it or not, about ‘grief work’ and ‘constructive grief’.)

‘I never wondered what death would be like,’ said one man whose brother died. ‘I thought… well, I didn’t think. I thought people just kind of fizzled out. I was completely unprepared for the horror of it all, the hospital, the machinery, the other people, all complete strangers, involved.’

...though death is programmed into our physical bodies – death is the only absolute certainty in life – its existence does not seem to be programmed into our minds. It is a taboo subject. We are taught about sex and birth control at school (well, sometimes we are), but we are never taught anything about death or how we might feel when it happens. There is vague talk about children learning about death when their pet hamsters or goldfish die. But while the death of a child’s personal dog, fed and exercised only by its owner (a highly unlikely situation as most mothers know), might convey to the child a glimmer of what it feels like to be bereaved, most of us usually arrive at our first human bereavement as adults, completely unprepared for what is to come. "stages of grieving" are as follows: ‘Numbness, the first stage, gives way to pining and pining to disorganization and despair, and it is only after the stage of disorganization that recovery occurs.’
But does ‘recovery’ ever really occur? Recovery implies that after a certain time you return to your natural state, but nothing, after a big bereavement, can ever be the same again. Recovery of what? Does recovery mean being able to go back to work? Even if it does, you will not be the same person as you were beforehand, that’s for sure.

But we each respond to bereavement individually: one perhaps wanting to keep grief private, one wanting to shout it from the rooftops, one finding physical human contact and loads of hugs and kisses a comfort, others shrinking away and hiding themselves like wounded animals in dark holes. Some may just want to go out and get pissed, others want to repress it all completely. (...) maybe after a bereavement you feel pretty gloomy for ever. This is the thing about bereavement – you can never tell how it will turn out, and any book or counsellor that tells you otherwise is lying. own instinctive feeling is that you do not work through bereavement. It works through you. It is the passivity that’s involved in bereavement, the feeling that something terrible is being done to you – which it is – that is the most frightening.

...there are no ‘musts’ about grieving or bereavement.
You must not walk around the perimeter of loss. Instead you must go through the centre, grief’s very core, in order to continue your own life in a meaningful way.
Yet what is so very dreadful about bereavement and loss is that the feelings have no shape, no anything. I am tempted to write, Buddhist-style, that loss just ‘is’. But even that isn’t true. The weird thing about feelings of bereavement is that they can come and go. It is – and it isn’t. One day you’ll be handing over the money in the supermarket queue feeling perfectly fine, and thinking about supper, and the next minute your knees buckle and you’re in floods of tears, overwhelmed by waves of anger, or paralysed by a feeling of nothingness. Bereavement isn’t even there all the time. Or, to get even more slippery, for some people it is, for some people it isn’t.

Bereavement can also be seen as a disease – but more like malaria than flu, endlessly popping up at odd times and striking its victim down, violent and sweaty, into the foreseeable future. Or is it like a wound? As Elizabeth Jennings wrote:
When I had written an article about my father’s death someone wrote to me saying: ‘I went through it a year ago.’ Then she added: ‘That past tense doesn’t feel right.’

I find A Grief Observed, the diary C. S. Lewis wrote after his wife’s death, the best book on bereavement there is:
"Sorrow however turns out to be not a state but a process. (...) One keeps on emerging from a phase, but it always recurs. Round and round. Everything repeats. Am I going in circles, or dare I hope I am on a spiral? But if a spiral, am I going up or down it? How often will the vast emptiness astonish me like a complete novelty and make me say, ‘I never realized my loss till this moment?’ The same leg is cut off time after time. The first plunge of the knife into the flesh is felt again and again. They say ‘The coward dies many times’; so does the beloved."

Some find that they can keep bereavement at bay by staying busy. This is a perfectly normal way of coping which works well for some – but if you keep bereavement away by constant action, you may pay for it later. The action may turn out to be an avoidance technique, like putting a finger on the pause button on the bereavement video. When you stop doing whatever you were doing – going to parties, helping others, seeing movies – you still return home to a film which hasn’t moved on since you stopped watching it. You can wish and wish you could fast-forward to the end, but you can’t. the face of the pain of bereavement, comfort is only a tiny plaster compared to a gaping wound.

When I spoke to a counsellor who had written a book about loss, we touched on the triteness of the idea that anyone would ever ‘get over’ bereavement. Even the phrase ‘come to terms’ with a loss seemed unacceptable. I thought that ‘living with it’ was about the most you could ask for. She suggested that bereavement can be ‘assimilated’ into people’s lives. Then we both agreed that feelings of bereavement never go away. She laughed. ‘You’re right,’ she said. ‘But of course, in my book I couldn’t say that. It’s not what people want to hear.’ But if she couldn’t say it, I’ll say it instead. I think people do want to hear the truth. For comfort, have a drink and ring a friend. But there is deeper refreshment to be had: the discovery that other people share confused and often somewhat socially unacceptable feelings as they try, often unsuccessfully, to cope with bereavement.

I do hope that in these pages you will find reassurance that even in your craziest, most evil, most charmless, most miserable, most blanked-off moments, you are not alone.

Thursday, June 10, 2021

The Opening of the Eyes/ карма

Buddhism teaches that life is based on the exacting law of cause and effect, as explained in the well-known passage:

“If you want to understand the causes that existed in the past, look at the results as they are manifested in the present. And if you want to understand what results will be manifested in the future, look at the causes that exist in the present”.

(“The Opening of the Eyes,” The Writings of Nichiren Daishonin, vol. 1, p. 279)

«Если хочешь понять причины (предпосылки), существовавшие в прошлом – взгляни на их результаты, проявившиеся в настоящем. А если хочешь понять, какие результаты проявятся в будущем – взгляни на причины (предпосылки), существующие в настоящем».

Нитирен Дайсонин (1222–1282), японский монах, основатель школы Нитирэн-сю

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Make this your paradise or make this your hell - Brad Warner (Hardcore Zen)

From: Hardcore Zen: Punk Rock, Monster Movies and the Truth about Reality - by Brad Warner

Reality's all you've got. But here's the real secret, the real miracle: it's enough.

• look out at the clear blue sky and for an instant you see that you are everything. You want to say something, but none of the words you have will stick at all; nothing will come except for a wide, wide smile that crosses all of space at time — and the moment is utterly forgotten.

• This is always and inevitably the case. No one gets away with murder. No one gets away with anything. You can't escape the consequences of your immoral acts any more than someone who drops a big-ass amp directly on his foot can escape having broken toe-bones. Your life and the life of everyone else in the universe are one seamless whole. To cause another living being pain isn't evil-it's just stupid. Because that being is you.

• Maybe your lot right now could be improved. I know mine could. And working to make things better is great. But we don’t just work to make things better and leave it at that, do we? We live in the idealized world inside our heads. And that keeps us from ever really enjoying what we have right now, from enjoying the work that we’re doing to create our better tomorrow. It’s as if we’re afraid to really commit to this moment because a better one might come along later. This approach is totally ridiculous and completely absurd.

• The pain of having your dreams come true appears vividly when you realize that even if your dreams really come true, they never really come true. From birth to death it's just like this.

• Once I'd achieved my goal I had to admit to myself it wasn't what I expected and that it did not in fact make everything perfect. And this will happen to anyone who attains any kind of "success" no matter how it is defined — even if success is defined as complete, unsurpassed, perfect enlightenment. You will discover upon reaching it that whatever it is, it's not what you expected and nothing is any more perfect than it ever was.

• We always imagine that there's got to be somewhere else better than where we are right now; this is the great Somewhere Else we all carry around in our heads. We believe Somewhere Else is out there for us if only we could find it. But there's no Somewhere Else. Everything is right here.

Do as well as you possibly can. That's Buddhist morality.

• This world is better than Utopia because — and follow this point carefully — you can never live in Utopia. Utopia is always somewhere else. That's the very definition of Utopia.

• You can't life in paradise — but you are living right here. Make this your paradise or make this your hell. The choice is entirely yours. Really.

• The very idea of higher states of consciousness is absurd. Comparing one state of consciousness to another and saying one is "higher" and the other is "mundane" is like eating a banana and complaining it's not a very good apple.

Zen replaces all objects of belief with one single thing: reality itself. We believe only in this universe. We don't believe in the afterlife. We don't believe in the sovereignty of nations. We don't believe in money or power or fame. We don't believe in our idols. We don't believe in our positions or our possessions. We don't believe we can be insulted, or that our honor or the honor of our family, our nation or our faith can be offended. We don't believe in Buddha. We just believe in reality. Just this.

Zen does not ask you to believe in anything you cannot confirm for yourself. It does not ask you to memorize any sacred words. It does not require you to worship any particular thing or revere any particular person. It does not offer any rules to obey. It does not give you any hierarchy of learned men whose profound teachings you must follow to the letter. It does not ask you to conform any code of dress. It does not ask you to allow anyone else to choose what is right for you and what is wrong. Zen is complete absence of belief. Zen is the complete lack of authority. Zen tears away every false refuge in which you might hide from the truth and forces you to sit naked before what is real. That's real refuge.

• It's a frightening thing to be truly honest with yourself. It means you have no one left to turn to anymore, no-one to blame, and to one to look to for salvation. You have to give up any possibility that there will ever be any refuge for you. You have to accept the reality that you are truly and finally on your own. The best thing you can hope for in life is to meet a teacher who will smash all of your dreams, dash all of your hopes, tear your teddy-bear beliefs out of your arms and fling them over a cliff.

• You can master tantric yogic poly-orgasmic Wonder Sex but you're still gonna die alone.

• The first noble truth, suffering, represents idealism. When you look at things from an idealistic viewpoint everything sucks, as the Descendents said in the song called “Everything Sucks” (from the album Everything Sucks). Nothing can possibly live up to the ideals and fantasies you’ve created. So we suffer because things are not the way we think they ought to be. Rather than face what really is, we prefer to retreat and compare what we’re living through with the way we think it oughta be. Suffering comes from the comparison between the two.

• But don't get too hung up on the future. The future's out of your control. Enjoy what's happening right now. Do what is appropriate, what is right, in the present moment and let the future be the future.

If you want to believe in reincarnation, you have to believe that this life, what you're living through right now, is the afterlife. You're missing out on the afterlife you looked forward to in your last existence by worrying about your next life. This is what happens after you die.
Если хотите верить в реинкарнацию, вам приходится поверить в то, что жизнь, которую вы проживаете сейчас – загробная. И вы упускаете эту загробную жизнь, которую с нетерпением ждали в своем предыдущем существовании, беспокоясь о своей последующей жизни. Вот что происходит после смерти.

• It's not "you" and "the universe." It's "universeyou".

Nothing can be separated from everything else.

• Practicing zazen is like gradually (or maybe not so gradually) getting your sight back.

• You've won all creation. It's yours to do with it as you please — and you discover what pleases you most is doing the right thing for all creation in moment after moment.

• People imagine enlightenment will make them incredibly powerful. And it does. It makes you the most powerful being in all the universe — but usually no one else notices.

• You can get hooked on afterlife ideas just like a drug. The reason to avoid ideas about life after death isn't because they couldn't possibly be true. Maybe they could. How would I know? It's because ideas like that promote a kind of dreamy fantasy state that distracts us from seeing what our life is right now.

• The question doesn't fit the case.

• Look at your life as it is right now and live it, right now.

• Suffering occurs when your ideas about how things ought to be don’t match how they really are. Stop for a second and look at this in your life right now. It’s important.

• When you’re so committed to the future, it’s real easy to let your life right now turn to shit.

• The moment you were born was you. The moment you die will be you. This moment right now is you. There is no difference between this moment and yourself. You live through a million you/moments every single second. Being and time are not two things.

Reacting to anger is an addiction, pure and simple, just like smoking Marlboros. Objectively it takes more resources to keep smoking than to stop. Yet giving it up seems much harder than continuing, because you're addicted. But even the addiction of reacting to emotions isn't the root addiction. Ultimately, you are addicted to the idea of "you."

Compassion is the ability to see what needs doing right now and the willingness to do it right now. Sometimes compassion may even mean doing nothing at all.

• This fleeting teeny-weeny present moment is the only time in which you are free to act. Within the confines in which our past action has placed us, we are absolutely free right now.
That's an important point — make sure you see it.

Photo from

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