An Ocean of Grief
Two days, it has been since I accompanied her to the door of her death, she, a stranger whom I had never met before and who had just come to die at Zen Hospice. I did all I knew to take care of myself afterwords. Lots of sleep, meditation, time alone to process, and sharing with the other people in my team. Two days, and the energy inside has reached a climax, to the point where I can now recognize it clearly. I am filled with pure rage, and reminded how the experience of death, no matter how beautiful, and impersonal, is never to be taken lightly. This woman whom I was privileged to meet, and serve during the last hour of her life, has brought me to a place of mystery that I am only beginning to apprehend.
“Enough, Ananda! Do not grieve, do not lament! For have I not taught from the very beginning that with all that is dear and beloved there must be change, separation, and severance? Of that which is born, come into being, compounded, and subject to decay, how can one say: ‘May it not come to dissolution!’? There can be no such state of things. Now for a long time, Ananda, you have served the Tathagata with loving-kindness in deed, word, and thought, graciously, pleasantly, with a whole heart and beyond measure. Great good have you gathered, Ananda! Now you should put forth energy, and soon you too will be free from the taints.”
Between the wise acceptance of the full reality of life, from beginning to end, that I know I ought to embrace eventually, and my very human and natural tendency to want to cling, lies an ocean of grief, that only I can cross. After the weeping, comes the rage. Timeless, archetypal, tragic. I could try to explain it away, but that would be disrespectful, almost. Rather, I feel this rage is to be embraced wholeheartedly, with great consciousness.
During Zen Hospice training, one woman in our group spoke with great feeling about her fear of death, “I don’t want to die. I don’t want the people I love to die. I can’t even accept that the people in the hospice ward are going to die.” At the time, I had been quick to dismiss her comment, thinking that I had come to terms with death. After all, I had read the teachings, and understood about the impermanence of life, and the absurdity of going against it. Now I realize, the real foolishness was in skipping the path that got the Buddha to his realization. It is one thing to know about impermanence intellectually. It is quite another to feel it in one’s core.
Sitting with rage, I rejoice in knowing that I have embarked on the deep ocean of universal grief, and that true liberation from the ultimate clinging, awaits on the other side. While I may never get there completely, I can get close at least.
Marguerite Manteau-Rao, LCSW, ATR, MBA, is a mindfulness-based psychotherapist in private practice in Menlo Park, CA, and MBSR facilitator. She also volunteers for Zen Hospice Project and Stanford University No One Dies Alone Program. A student of Vipassana meditation at Insight Meditation Center in Redwood City, CA, she co-founded the IMC Online Community, a place where members of IMC growing worldwide sangha can find refuge. She is the creator of Mind Deep, a blog on mindfulness practice, that appeared on Elephant Journal’s list of “Best Female Buddhist Bloggers of 2009”. She was on San Francisco Examiner’s list of “Buddhist Twitter Feeds to Follow” in 2010. Marguerite is a weekly contributor for Huffington Post, initially as a sustainability voice, and more recently as a mindful living advocate. Prior to Mind Deep, Marguerite was the creator of La Marguerite, a blog on the psychology of climate change, that was named one of “Top 10 Eco-Blogs for Earth Day” by Times Online in 2008. As co-founder of Green Moms, a group of women environmental activists, she won Twitter 2008 Shorty Awards in the Green category. She was also named one of the top Web green thinkers to watch for, by UK Guardian in 2009.
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