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! 

 

 

 

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.