Death Positive

When you say that you’re ‘death positive’ – it may sound kind of weird to the uninitiated.  Like you’re running around dressed like a goth cheerleader, chanting ‘Rah Rah. It’s OK. Everybody Dies Anyway.” Like anything, there are levels to the positivity, just as there are levels to the woo in New Age circles and the guitar noodling in the Heavy Metal realm. 

The concept of ‘death acceptance’ might be bit less strange as it’s commonly spoken of, and well – regardless of whether we want death in our lives, we accept that it happens (eventually we accept it, because we have no choice). As Buddhists, our dear friend the First Noble Truth teaches that the suffering of birth, old age, sickness and uh hem, death is unavoidable. Whether we become comfortable or tolerant of this truth is our own personal journey.  

Given 2015 was the year that I was initiated into the Hardcore Grievers Club, I’ve since become quite death positive. This isn’t without a basis in being interested, frightened or ‘death curious.’ As a child, most of my interest in death revolved around a love of horror films and all things that went bump in the night. One of the deeper death experiences I had was when my close friend, Tina was killed by a drunk driver. I was roughly 10 years old and from what I remember, it was surreal to me. I was left trying to comprehend how someone I spent so much time with and was bonded to, was now no longer. I didn’t have a lot of resources to help me through this and was left to process things pretty independently. We lived on the same street and I remember walking by her house feeling something I couldn’t quite nail down. Fear. Sadness. Confusion. Worry about my own death. Anger. Righteousness. Wanting to find the drunk driver and smash his head in. Worrying about seeing her parents and not knowing what to say. Wanting to see her parents. 

I come from an Irish Catholic family, so death was accompanied by a wake. With this wake was a full on expression of emotions. More emotions than many in my family could handle. There were fistfights on occasion, but always yelling, crying, wailing and the presence of a priest. Our priest was a lovely man. Ruddy-skinned, big ears and a stick think frame. He used to play on an all-priest hockey team called ‘the Flying Fathers’ and this delighted me to no end – imagining a bunch of priests in collars with no pads, checking each other around and zooming across the ice. It would have spoiled my childhood image of this to know that they were well-padded, helmet-headed and looked like no other hockey team shimmying it up. 

Deaths continued around me. Family. Friends. Schoolmates. There isn’t a day where the obituary section isn’t filled with one name. Some of these deaths came with a sense of relief – Ah, they will now be at peace. Some were met with shock. Some didn’t have the old age, or sickness category affixed to their cause. 

I trod through life for 19 years, and then discovered Buddhism. One of the first books I read was ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying.’ I didn’t understand a word of it then, and likely now it may be as mystical and kaleidoscopic as it was when I first cracked the spine. I pawed over countless other deathy books – likely hoping to gain an understanding, but also out of sheer interest.

You can’t learn through books along – only by experience. 

Reverting on old ways, when my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer – I tore through books hoping to get some insight. When my dog’s health began to decline, I did the same. Maybe it was a way to buffer myself from the inevitable. To better manage what was coming. To batten down the hatches. To know how the story is likely to end.

The books may have helped a bit.  I can’t say for sure. What did help was going through the experiences. The messiness. The confusion. The wild hurricane of emotions. I wasn’t studying or practicing Buddhism in the way I used to – reading, studying, practicing – but was now living what I had learned to that point. Pema Chodron’s words on uncertainty, letting go, not biting the hook – they all had an application at various stages as things evolved with my mom and my dog. Teachings from Chogyam Trungpa rang in my head. Momentary flashes back to weekends spent at Shambhala centres where I was being primed for this. Like a young gymnast doing reps on the beam – over and over and over. I was coming back to my breath when I was feeling like I was drowning. 

It was unconscious. I wasn’t seeking this comfort or running to my bookshelf for the perfect passage for the moment. It was in there. I didn’t have to call upon it. It just arose. 

I’m now even more curious about death. I’m heartened to see that more and more people are expressing that they are death positive. Maybe you are too and you don’t know it yet. Don’t wait until it’s too late! 

A list of death positive people you should know:

Please add anyone I’ve missed in the comments. I’d love to find more death positive mentors and friends. 

Is it like a Buddhist Diary?

I used to get personal over on my old blog and I’m hoping I’ll pick that up again over here. There’s always the fear of revealing too much – or being a big blabbermouth. Maybe worse yet – of being boring. Add to that nobody reading in the first place.

Then there was that mild troll infestation I had a few years back that made me question why me as a Buddhist woman on the web would even write anything at all. 

Now I’m jazzed about writing again and hoping that this space will keep me inspired to write a bit daily. I’m not at the Morning Pages level of writing that I strive to be at someday, but it’s something. 

Before, my blog felt like a Buddhist diary that I was writing in at times. I would hope that some pimpily-faced kid in the Midwest would stumble across my blog which searching for “Buddhist punk” or a similar optimized term to bring all the pimpily-faced Buddha-curious kids to the yard. Y’see. I didn’t have any of this when I started folks. I had an old bookstore in my small hometown (cue up a Springsteen-sounding guitar riff to accompany this story). I would buy up any book I could that even smelled like it had a Buddhist scent on it. That led me to some crazy places. Maybe the pimpily-faced Buddha-curious kids are being lead to similar crazy places online. It’s the age-old battle of ‘back in my day’ was better than your ‘kids nowdays.’ I’m somewhere in the middle on this. Frankly a lot of my perceptions and beliefs on the best way or the only way has gone out the window. Maybe I’ve hit the ‘question everything’ phase of my journey on this winding road?

February 16, 2017

Dear Diary,

I’ve been reading ‘The Guru Drinks Bourbon’ and am devouring it like a parched office worker at a Christmas party punchbowl. There is so much in this book that is challenging – and I love that. Much as Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche would challenge my thoughts and perceptions about a teacher and how a teacher should behave, Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse is doing the same – and I love it! 

 

 

 

Linkage: Links I Love – Valentine’s Day Edition

I don’t really celebrate Valentine’s Day. If you do, I hope you have a lovely day. If you don’t, I hope you have a lovely day. 

Here are a few links that I want to share with you. May they be of interest, benefit, stoke you in some way or just serve as something to while the time away with.

  • All of this is everything. Go and buy everything that Liz Prince has ever made. 
  • Dharma Cowgirl has written a post that really resonated with me. Gah! It is so good, and so familiar. Thank you for sharing and for being brave. I’m getting comfortable with being a bit more brave myself. 
  • The best band in the world are touring this year and coming to my town. This brings me so much joy. 
  • A little musical entertainment for you from Flag

Good intentions

Oh hey. Remember when you were going to try to write more often because hey, you love writing and it brings you joy and you had all of these good intentions to sit every day and practice each morning and would try to do some at-home yoga at least once a weekend, and you’d break out the juicer and make sure to swig a wholesome and hearty juice to start the day?

Yeah. Good intentions. 

Before I would beat myself up over all of these failings and transgressions. After some mega-doses of self love and self compassion and a whole bunch of realizations that have hit, I’m being a lot more gentle on myself. I’m trying. I’m doing my best. That’s good enough. My habitual tendency has always been to DO ALL THE THINGS and then feel defeated when I didn’t succeed. 

Each day is a fresh start to get back at it. DO SOME OF THE THINGS! DO ONLY ONE OF THE THINGS! 

The phrase “Practice like your hair’s one fire” used to really resonate with me. It was a language that I was most comfortable with. Push yourself. Pressure. DO BETTER. DO ALL THE THINGS. DON”T FAIL. 

Now I’m experimenting with the discomfort that comes from letting some of the things slip. Sitting with the not-sitting. Knowing that this isn’t a race. Doing what I can and letting that be enough. With all of the chaos in the political space, I’m hearing many people feel like they aren’t doing enough. If you’re like me and tend to feel this way – do one thing. Just one thing is enough.

‘So our practice is one of being as conscientious, clear, and honest as we can. We can of course create incredible standards of goodness, but knowing ‘good enough’ means that you check: am I doing what I feel I can do within my capacity to do good? Am I doing something that’s deliberately nasty, stupid, and poisonous or not? Is my energy going into violating others or not, trashing other people or not? Trashing myself or not? This is not appropriate behaviour. What is it that wants to do that? That wants to criticize and continually castigate ourselves and hang on to guilty perceptions of things we did fifteen years ago? What is it that wants to do that? That’s harming us, that’s never going to lead to ‘good enough.’ 

via Ajahn Sucitto

Relax. You’re likely doing much better than you think. 

Readage: Detox Your Heart by Valerie Mason-John

Detox Your Heart

Having missed out on reading this book the first time around, I am grateful to have the opportunity to check out the new edition of Valerie Mason-John’s book Detox Your Heart- Meditations for Healing Emotional Trauma. I’m like a broken record lately in saying that again, a book that I needed at this particular stage in my life has made it way into my hands. Call it cause and effect, karmic forces or just plain great timing – I’m feeling blessed to have the chance to receive and be open to the materials within this essential book.

This book is a refreshed, revised and expanded version of the one that was initially released in 2005. It features more stories than the previous work as well as an update on the author’s relationship with her mother.

Anchored in the Four Noble Truths, Mason-John delivers an eye-opening autobiographical journey through her overindulgence in sex, drugs and rock and roll, or as she calls it a different kind of Triple Jewels than what Buddhists know.

The author shares her personal story of how she grew up under terrible circumstances and was unable to shake the negative self-talk she was imprinted with. Her honesty is direct. You can’t help but feel deep empathy for the pain that she suffered. The stories of the obstacles she overcame throughout her life will inspire you towards enacting change in your own situation. She views the human spirit as what helped her break out of her addiction and self-destruction. Once we discover this promise of a way out, we need to overcome our habitual tendencies – those hindrances that keep us stuck in what causes us suffering. Mason-John suggests that we need to detox and purify ourselves in order to fully heal. She calls us to use kindness, generosity, creativity, meditation, and mega-doses of self-love to help in our healing. This book in her words is about “reuniting heart with mind.”

“This book is a self-awareness book.”

Detox Your Heart- Meditations for Healing Emotional Trauma will help you to see where you’re hung up, and then will provide you with suggestions for how to change your habits. As was the case with Valerie, all it takes is a willingness and desire to heal. Getting in touch with our emotional self and how we are not to blame for many of the circumstances that befall us is a central element of this book and one that resulted in a major shift. In sharing her story, Valerie’s bravery is helping others like her. She notes that we must face our inner demons in order to come to inner peace. Slowing down and looking at ourselves – our experiences is what helps us tap into feeling and connecting to our emotions. Emotions play a key role in Mason-John’s book and she spends a good part of this work on identifying, exploring and working with our emotions, thoughts and feelings. Creating a space for emotions, welcoming them and then seeing the wisdom that can come from exploring them further than we traditionally do is key to transforming our habitual reactions.

Valerie is an example of resiliency and recovery. This book draws the reader in and explores exercises that they can do to help them to view their situation from a new perspective. Her goal is to help individuals heal their bodies, minds and hearts with the idea of taking “stepping stones towards inner change.”

In the author’s words “Detox your heart and you’ll detox your life.” This book is essential if you are seeking freedom from suffering and want to step into a path of healing and self-awareness.

 

Linkage : Links I love – January edition

Same blog – Different look

Keeping up the tradition of the old blog and my love of sharing good stuff, here’s a few links and things that are making me emotional, keeping me inspired, blowing my synapses and just generally causing some feels.

Enjoy! 

Fear of a Trump Planet – or How I Came Back to Studying Buddhism and Still Fear the Bomb

Binders full of Buddhism

I won’t opine on what I think or feel about politics these days. I’ll save you from this dear friend. You get enough of it on social media and in in the sometimes anti-social media so I’ll spare us all. 

We’re about to be challenged like never before. We’re about to need all that loving-kindness, peace, love and understanding like never before. We are going to need all that mindfulness, awareness, compassion, compassionate action, compassionate in-action – EVERYTHING! 

A few years ago I had a crisis of faith. Not in Buddhism but in myself. I had be pushing myself so hard to study and practice. To be perfect. I had schedules, timetables, apps, bells, whistles, reminders, post it notes, memberships to communities, blogs, magazine subscriptions, books, books, books. I didn’t lose my path, I filled it up with too much. It all became so overwhelming. I had a goal- to become a teacher in my local Buddhist community. It wasn’t out of a sense of desire for fame (I’m so shy that I think I’d prefer to give talks or instruction while wearing a ski mask). I was out of a sense of seeing how much Buddhism brought to my life and wanting to share this.

I taught a few sessions with a close friend in my sangha, but when he died, I put that all on a shelf. I lost my main cheerleader and was left with my own judgey little mind to fill in the gaps and tell myself that I was best to focus on other things. Best to be a cheerleader for those who can teach than to be a charlatan, an imposter. 

So after a sabbatical into the realms of full on suffering and grief, I’ve emerged with a whole new headspace. It’s a path of ‘get there when you do,’  rather than the disciplined treadmill I had myself on. I’m enjoying the ride so far. I have a great coach Practice Instructor. I’m being gentle on myself and applying a bit more loose to my formerly too tight. I’m not sure if I’m in the middle just yet, but it’s feeling much more effortless and joyous than before. That counts for something. 

I’m feeling more like I’m on a pathless path, without a goal and with no idea where I’ll end up. Before that kind of perspective would freak me the flip out but now, I’m seeing this spaciousness as exciting. It’s potential. It can be filled with whatever comes my way. I’m open to the mystery of not knowing. Not controlling. Studying the Dharma with an idea in mind of where I’d like to go, but knowing that it can take me anywhere. 

Or nowhere at all. And that’s OK too. 

Readage: Make Peace with Your Mind by Mark Coleman

make peace with your mind

Again, and this may get repetitive to hear – another phenomenal Buddhist book has hit my bookshelf at the exact time that I needed it. I’m blessed to be living in a time when “Buddhist self-help” or Buddhist psychology books are plentiful. To have someone articulate the human condition in a way that calls upon the Dharma is truly something I am grateful for. Make Peace with Your Mind: How Mindfulness and Compassion Can Free You from Your Inner Critic left me feeling like I spent time with a good friend who had many similar experiences as I did and found a way to break habitual tendencies of self-hate.

The author, Mark Coleman is an experienced meditation teacher, counsellor and the founder of the Mindfulness Institute. This book shares his journey from a young, gruff punk to a calm and chill adult (yes, very familiar). It is a guide to how to “stop the war against ourselves” which Coleman believes is the greatest challenge we face. The tools of mindfulness, self-compassion, loving-kindness practice, and various therapeutic strategies are all explored in Make Peace with Your Mind: How Mindfulness and Compassion Can Free You from Your Inner Critic.

“I learned that to navigate life’s inner and outer storms, you need two essential skills: awareness and compassion. They are like wings of a bird, without which flight is impossible,” writes Coleman. “Awareness would be the torch that lit my path to discovery and the key to cooling the fires that raged inside me.”

The book is full of many insights into what creates, motivates and then crushes our inner critic. There are examples from others who have come to release themselves from their own negative self-judgment. There are also many exercises to explore in order to help readers work towards peace and freedom. Coleman has also created a “Critic Toolbox” which offers many different strategies to employ to lessen the inner critic’s impact on one’s life.

The author starts by shining a light on the ‘critic’ and how by training ourselves in self-awareness, we can become aware of our negative self-talk. The critic is what causes us depression, anxiety, joylessness, low self-esteem and shame. It’s a cloudy lens we view ourselves through. It limits us and keeps us from living life fully and with passion.

There is so much pain in life. And it is sad to watch people needlessly add to that by beating themselves up,” writes Coleman. “It is the love in our hearts that allows us to be vulnerable enough to recognize the burdens we carry. Love gives us a quiet strength that enables us to keep the critic at bay, hold our pain tenderly, and begin the journey of healing.”

Coleman helps readers release from negative self-talk by offering that “you are not your fault.” He relays how little control one has on their birth, environment and childhood conditioning. Taking a trip back into the past to determine where rules and cultural norms began to manifest as the critical voice helped me to see the origin story for my negative self-talk.

We need to decide where we wish to focus our awareness and attention and one of the ways to start breaking this cycle is to decide not to be pulled into negative self-judgment. The concept of imposter syndrome is explored and countered with the application of realizing that we all have gifts, experience and talent rather than needing to be caught up with being perfect. Other nasty ways that negative self-talk emerges are explored, such as the belief that we’re never enough, comparing ourselves to others, regret, feeling inadequate or powerless, perfectionism, attacking or judging others,

His words read as soothing and present the ideal place to start to see how we must take responsibility for our healing. Via mindfulness and awareness, we are able to see our situations clearly and then tap into our feelings, reactions, and judgments and begin to see where the ugly face of the inner critic presents itself. Coleman provides numerous antidotes for negative thinking and self talk to help us learn to be more compassionate towards ourselves. An emphasis is placed on learning how to love and befriend oneself – moving from judgment to kindness. Meeting our pain with love and gentleness when this isn’t what our usual default setting is can be quite uncomfortable, believe me. When you start to generate this self-compassion, it is amazing how heart and mind start to feel renewed.

“May I be safe, peaceful and free.”

All of the topics that Mark Coleman explores in Make Peace with Your Mind: How Mindfulness and Compassion Can Free You from Your Inner Critic are ones that I’m currently working through in my life. It has been so meaningful to have this book enter my life to help me recognize how hard I’ve been on myself for so long. To be given a Buddhist-flavored guide to pull wisdom and suggestions from has helped me do my own work with my inner critic. If you see that you have been holding yourself back, and wish to break the bad relationship you have with your inner critic, I highly recommend this book. I know I’ll be re-reading and journaling through this one.

Please let me know if it has helped you by leaving me a comment or if you are suffering (or have suffered from negative self-perception/self-talk). I’d love to hear your story.