Saturday, June 23, 2012

"The Art of Grieving"

"The Wound Is The Place Where The Light Enters You."  ~Rumi

(Sarnath, India:  1994)

"What are they doing?" I whispered.   Chuktong Rinpoche looked down at me, his eyes soft...kind.  "They are meditating on the impermanence of life, child.  All that you see in life is like a mirage of an oasis in the desert.  It is but a dream.  You think it is real, like a nomad, thirsty.  You want to believe it is real.  That the mirage is really a source of water, but it is not.  All that you view with your eyes will pass away.  It is the law of impermanence."

I stood and stared.  Dumbfounded.  My privileged, western, Judaeo-Christian upbringing, had never prepared me for the sight I was beholding.  I was 18 yrs. old.   As I looked up at the sky, full moon permeating the blackness, like a great lantern...I heard only silence.

What my eyes were beholding was a scene that changed my life forever.  I was drinking in the vision of hundreds of Buddhist monks and nuns, each meditating on a corpse in front of them, dangling by a hook.  The corpse's flesh, falling off in chunks, off of the skeletal frame.  Nothing but silence, and the concentrated, unflinching gaze of the renunciates, on the decaying flesh.  Unwavering.  No emotion.  Just observing.  There was no fear in their eyes at the decaying body in front of them.  No judgement.  Just acceptance.

"I want to be disciplined like them, Rinpoche.  Maybe I should become a renunciate too," I ventured.  Rinpoche just laughed at me.  "Child, that is not your role in this life.  You are to go home, to the west, and tell your tales.  You will heal and inspire others.  You will miss your home here, because really, India is your home.  You are to help inspire the downtrodden in your country, and bring smiles to the ailing.  You may come back to India, from time to time, but will not stay here," he said kindly.

"Rinpoche, if everything is impermanent, and will die or pass away, why love it?" I wondered aloud.  "Because that is the privilege of being a human being," he answered.  "You get the opportunity to love at a capacity that breaks your heart open.  It is a gift, indeed.  In addition, you get free-will, and the opportunity for choice," he continued.  "A broken heart is a contrite spirit.  If you utilize this gift of the broken heart, it can advance your internal progress greatly.  You see it as an annoyance.  Something that hurts so badly you want it to go away.  If you can hold fast, in the fires of its purification, you will be molded like a blacksmith's sword in fire," he whispered.

(Thalheim, Germany:  1997)

"Mother, I don't understand how a broken heart can bring one closer to the Self,"  I inquired.  "Pain becomes joy, when it is offered and understood,"  she said quietly.  "Understand pain, so that you may alleviate it.  Like a surgeon on yourself.  Then, you may assist others with their pain."  She walked away, silently, colorful sari glistening in the sun.

Mother Meera

(Amritapuri, Kerala, South India:  1997)

"Amma, how can I transform pain?  How can I offer it?"  I asked.  "Crazy girl, she laughed, a broken heart is the most beautiful thing you can offer on the alter of the Self.  It is a magnificent opportunity for you to make roses out of compost, but you must not avoid it.  It is a guru.  It will be a guide to the deepest, most inner recesses of your heart.  A broken heart brings up the normal human emotions, at first:  shock, anger, frustration, disappointment, etc.  But, you must watch those emotions as the Observer.  Do not let your mind cling to anyone of those emotions.  They are like waves on the surface of a great ocean.  Ocean dive deeper.  To the black, silent depth of the sea.  This will allow for the flow of tears to come up.  These tears are the tears of purification.  Embrace this process, and yet, do not become attached to the tears either.  Just observe them, as they come up, then let them go.  Do you understand, crazy girl?  Compassion is then bound to ensue."  She pinched my 2 cheeks between her fingers, patted me on the head, then walked down to the beach in silence.

Mata Amritanandamayi Devi ("Amma")

(Bend, OR.:  6/23/2012)

6am:  As I woke up to a torrential downpour, I felt as if the Earth was crying too.  That had become my routine, as of the past 6 wks.:  cry until I fall asleep.  Wake up tired from doing so.   I looked at the grey, cloudy Oregon sky, and sighed deeply.  My eyes hurt again from crying last night.  I walked into the bathroom, and washed my face.  The eyes that looked back at me in the mirror looked tired and puffy.  I'm not physically tired.  I'm emotionally tired.  Crying, continuously, is exhausting.  Just when you think you're done crying, it starts all over again.  "Purification, purification, purification..."  I muttered, under my breath, this morning, as I fixed my coffee.

As I sat down to meditate, I squirmed.  Coulda, shoulda, woulda.  What if circumstances were different?  What if he was different?  What if I was different?  What if, what if, what if...  My mind jumped back and forth:  past, present, future (rinse, repeat).  When will it end?  "Put your 'monkey mind' to rest, Crazy Girl," I could hear Amma say.  "The mind is like a monkey, jumping back and forth between the trees of the past and future.  Put the monkey to rest."  As I began to observe my breath...in...out...in...out...the thoughts of "what if," and the pain in my heart began to silence.

9:30am:  The tugging at my running shoes, as I put them on, alerted me to two eager dogs.  The drizzle outside was beginning to let up, but the chill in the air, told me, they wanted to run.  As I drove out to my favorite trail, I began to sob again.  I parked the car, and put my head down on the steering wheel.  I could not stop the uncontrollable heaving of my lungs.  They burned.  They ached the deepest ache I've felt.  I dreaded the run.  I contemplated driving home, but the eager "woo woo woo'ing" of the dogs prevented me from doing so.  

The start of the trail is uphill.  Today, the hill seemed daunting.  Unfriendly.  It almost felt like a foe.  As I trudged up it, my foot got caught on a rock.  I fell face-flat on the ground, biting my inner cheek.  I began to taste blood, and felt it trickle out of my nose too.  I just sat there, in the mud, covered in tree needles, sobbing.   Divorce?  Why?  Why?  Why?

I picked myself up, and dusted the dirt and blood off my face.  I began to run slowly again.  Two curious dogs ahead of me on the trail, sniffing the fresh summer grass.  As the tears flowed from my eyes, and the blood from my nose, I remembered the words of my teacher, Amma:  "Pain is a guru."  I began to repeat this with every step on the trail.  The heaviness in my legs began to disappear.

Me, On My Trail-Run

As I rounded the corner, I could see the sun peering through the trees.  A sense of assurance filled my heart.  A deep tranquility.  The smells of the earth, having just been touched by a summer rain, permeated my nostrils.  I began to cry again.  I cried for the next 5 miles.  I tripped, I ran, I jogged, I ran some more.

As I looked at the "Deschutes River," down below me, I remembered the words of my friend Philip Robert, on the phone this morning:  "As a kayaker, sometimes I need to go with the flow of the river.  But, there are times that's a bad idea.  Those times call for paddling like hell to save yourself.  Going with the flow then, would not be a good thing."

I contemplated this wisdom.  This is not the time for me to "go with the flow."  Its a time for me to "paddle like hell to save myself."  What am I saving myself from?  The mental trap of seeing pain as anything but a guru, a teacher of wisdom, and a transformer of my life.  The trap of victim mentality.  Yes, it is time to "paddle like hell," I decided.

Rivers rage.  Rivers flow gently.  Rivers provide protection for animals, and a thriving eco-system.  They never judge, however, who paddles them, swims in them, plays in them, or fishes in them.  They simply "observe," like the monks in Sarnath, India.  They don't resist the paddle of the kayaker, piercing their surface.  They allow the process to occur, without resistance.

As I observed these thoughts, I began to see that there is an art to grieving.  Its to be like a river.  Let the tears flow, never judge the process, observe all those who choose to float in/out of your life, and accept the bends and curves that nature provides.  There will be rapids, and rocks to flow over, but in the end, you will reach the sea, where you can "ocean dive" down to the depths of the Self.  Unwavering in the knowing that the sea is all there is.

"The Cycle of Impermanence:  The Tibetan Buddhist Art of Sand Mandala Making & Annihilation"


  1. Love you Almine. You must grieve. My friend a Cherokee Pathfinder says, Acknowledge, Accept and be Thankful. Grief is Acknowledgement. I am sorry this happened to you and I am sorry you are sad. But I am glad you are letting the sadness happen. 50 years ago when I was 10 my mother died. I didn't get to grieve for her till I was in my 50's. It was not good to wait that long. Cry my friend and let it wash you wounds clean. Lee Ann Forrester

    1. “We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey.” ~Kenji Miyazawa

  2. This is lovely, and makes me feel and remember, and then let go again. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for sharing this. I am also grieving. I lost my husband to cancer almost two months ago. My Acupuncturist/friend shared your blog with me.
    I am on a healing journey right now many hours from home... Just needed some time to let the tears flow. People mean well... But it's a personal journey... There is no easy button.
    Namaste~ Denise