Death and Grief
I just completed a really interesting class on "Death and Dying: Encountering The Bardos" at Kootenay Shambhala Centre. For our last class we shared stories of our experiences on Death and Grief. I have a very big story on that topic because I was orphaned at a young age.
When I was nine years old my father died. He was flying a glider as a hobby for many years. This is a plane with a very long wing span and no propeller. A propeller plane is connected to the glider with a very long cable and tows the glider up into the air. When the glider is high enough to sore the pilot releases the cable and enjoys doing circles soaring through the air like a bird. I used to go with my father on these soaring adventures and it was very dreamy.
However, on this Friday afternoon a malfunction happened. While he was getting towed the cable released too early. He was not high enough to soar and not low enough to make an adequate landing. He flew through two houses narrowly missing them but impacted on the edge of a curb. The sudden impact caused his death.
I felt my father die. I remember very clearly writing a math test and intently looking down at my work. All of sudden the wind was knocked out of me. I took a big breath and looked up at the clock. It was 3:55 the same time my dad died.
Life was very difficult for my mother afterwards. With three kids and a host of other problems she died 2 years later of a heart attack. Oddly, she died on my borther's 9th birthday. I was 11 years old.
I didn't feel my mother die but I had a premonition that she would die of a heart of attack. In this dream, my father was there, as well as the priest who led his funeral. I saw my mother go up into a large catacomb sort of building. She was having a medical procedure done on her hear and unfortunately the procedure went wrong.
This is a tragic story. It was a very sad time for me and I am still recovering from abandonment issues. But children are very resilient and live in the present. Life carried on. The dog still needed to be walked, I still went to school and saw my friends. There were many good things to look forward to in the day.
This is my point in sharing this story. There were gifts that came from this tragedy. For one, I learned my own resilience and built a very strong character. Secondly, I met Stefano (my husband) when we moved to Vancouver in 1986. Although we lost touch for 20 years after, we created a childhood bond that is still with us today. Thirdly, I am very in touch with the spirit world, which greatly informs my work as an animal communicator.
Although there are many adversities in life there are also many gifts. The harder we fall the taller we stand back up again. I really believe there is always a silver lining around the dark cloud.
I am taking a very interesting class "Death and Dying, Encountering the Bardos" at the Kootenay Shambhala Centre. We are learning about dealing with pain and loss and watching the NFB documentary "The Tibetan Book of the Dead." It is very fascinating to learn the Buddhist perspective on the afterlife.
I was reintroduced to the practice of Tong Len. This is where you breath in the suffering of others. It can range from a close friend to a world wide problem. Then you breath out the resolution you would like for the suffering. For example, I am very troubled by the cruelty imposed on factory farm animals. So I imagine pigs crammed in small cages and breath it in. Then I image the cages opening and the pigs running free in a grassy meadow while breathing out. By connecting yourself to the pain of others you are also healing your own suffering. The well respected Pema Chodron gives a detailed description on how to do this practice. I think it will be very helpful for those with animals that are at end of life and who have passed.
How to Practice Tonglenby Pema Chödrön| November 9, 2017
Pema Chödrön teaches us “sending and taking,” an ancient Buddhist practice to awaken compassion. With each in-breath, we take in others’ pain. With each out-breath, we send them relief.Illustration by Carole Henaff.
Tonglen practice, also known as “taking and sending,” reverses our usual logic of avoiding suffering and seeking pleasure. In tonglen practice, we visualize taking in the pain of others with every in-breath and sending out whatever will benefit them on the out-breath. In the process, we become liberated from age- old patterns of selfishness. We begin to feel love for both ourselves and others; we begin to take care of ourselves and others.
Tonglen awakens our compassion and introduces us to a far bigger view of reality. It introduces us to the unlimited spaciousness of shunyata (emptiness). By doing the practice, we begin to connect with the open dimension of our being.
Tonglen can be done for those who are ill, those who are dying or have died, or those who are in pain of any kind. It can be done as a formal meditation practice or right on the spot at any time. If we are out walking and we see someone in pain, we can breathe in that person’s pain and send out relief to them.
Breathe in for all of us and breathe out for all of us. Use what seems like poison as medicine.Usually, we look away when we see someone suffering. Their pain brings up our fear or anger; it brings up our resistance and confusion. So we can also do tonglen for all the people just like ourselves—all those who wish to be compassionate but instead are afraid, who wish to be brave but instead are cowardly. Rather than beating ourselves up, we can use our personal stuckness as a stepping stone to understanding what people are up against all over the world. Breathe in for all of us and breathe out for all of us. Use what seems like poison as medicine. We can use our personal suffering as the path to compassion for all beings.
When you do tonglen as a formal meditation practice, it has four stages:
1. Flash on Bodhichitta. Rest your mind for a second or two in a state of openness or stillness. This stage is traditionally called flashing on absolute bodhichitta, awakened heart-mind, or opening to basic spaciousness and clarity.
2. Begin the Visualization. Work with texture. Breathe in feelings of heat, darkness, and heaviness—a sense of claustrophobia—and breathe out feelings of coolness, brightness, and light—a sense of freshness. Breathe in completely, taking in negative energy through all the pores of your body. When you breathe out, radiate positive energy completely, through all the pores of your body. Do this until your visualization is synchronized with your in- and out-breaths.
3. Focus on a Personal Situation. Focus on any painful situation that’s real to you. Traditionally you begin by doing tonglen for someone you care about and wish to help. However, if you are stuck, you can do the practice for the pain you are feeling yourself, and simultaneously for all those who feel the same kind of suffering. For instance, if you are feeling inadequate, breathe that in for yourself and all the others in the same boat and send out confidence, adequacy, and relief in any form you wish.
4. Expand Your Compassion. Finally, make the taking in and sending out bigger. If you are doing tonglen for someone you love, extend it out to all those who are in the same situation. If you are doing tonglen for someone you see on television or on the street, do it for all the others in the same boat. Make it bigger than just that one person. You can do tonglen for people you consider to be your enemies—those who hurt you or hurt others. Do tonglen for them, thinking of them as having the same confusion and stuckness as your friend or yourself. Breathe in their pain and send them relief.
Tonglen can extend infinitely. As you do the practice, your compassion naturally expands over time, and so does your realization that things are not as solid as you thought, which is a glimpse of emptiness. As you do this practice, gradually at your own pace, you will be surprised to find yourself more and more able to be there for others, even in what used to seem like impossible situations.
About Pema ChödrönWith her powerful teachings, bestselling books, and retreats attended by thousands, Pema Chödrön is today’s most popular American-born teacher of Buddhism. In The Wisdom of No Escape, The Places that Scare You, and other important books, she has helped us discover how difficulty and uncertainty can be opportunities for awakening. She serves as resident teacher at Gampo Abbey Monastery in Nova Scotia and is a student of Dzigar Kongtrul, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, and the late Chögyam Trungpa. For more, visit pemachodronfoundation.org.
I have been a Professional Animal Communicator since January 2016. I have been an animal lover and admirer for a very, very long time.