death and loss

Dear Young Spiritual Seeker,

You asked me in your last letter, “should I fear death?” I cannot ask that question for you, you have to find out the answer to that questions by living and dying.

I will not quote spiritual books to you or speak in terms of academic theology, I will speak from my own truth simple and plain. I do not know what lies after death. However, I do know that our life here is but a blink of an eye; human beings are but children to ancient trees or wise old turtle. Everything no matter how long it lives, will eventually die.

I am not a Buddhist, yet the wisdom of the Buddha’s words rings true, everything is impermanent. And yet, the impermanence of life does not render life meaningless, but each moment is precious and an opportunity to be present.

So my friend, we who live in a culture that denies death, we can be countercultural and embrace the truth of death and impermanence. Also, it does not mean our embracing the truth of impermanence will make our grief any less, when we say goodbye to someone we love due to death. Saying goodbye to a life is always hard, otherwise we would not be human, and yet it does not mean we have to wallow in sadness in pain.

My young friend, live now, so you have fully lived when it is your time to welcome death. For death is the great unknown, when we know not when it will knock at our door. Sit, breathe and inquire with curiosity your fear and find what lies underneath.

It is a joy to be your friend and companion on this journey of seeking and discovering. Be well.

Your fiend on the path.

Poem: pandemic blues

i know i am not the only one that feels this way,
but i am done with this pandemic.
i am done being surrounded by death,
i am done being surrounded by loss.

grief is so thick in the air,
and part of me wants to run away.
i want to run into something, anything that
is better than the reality of this pain.

and yet i remain, my practices have taught me
to breathe and sit with my pain.
i settle into my meditation cushion,
and i rage at the
loss of friendships,
loss of jobs, and
loss of possibilities yet to be.

my heart aches and yearns for a reality that
is only in my mind.

i sit with my suffering.

i sit with the loss and
accept that death is part of life,
and yet i rage inside and say
“this shit ain’t normal.”

But what can i do?
i am just a laid off chaplain seeking
purpose.

i got the pandemic blues.
But shit, i ain’t hopeless.
i will bear my suffering,
and walk through it
like a fearless boddhisattva
to embrace life and death
as one.

Meditation Poem Series # 90: the end

Here comes an end to my meditation poems series, even though I didn’t get to do 90 continuous days…I was able to recommit to my sitting practice and get back into writing poems. I am not sure what I will do next on this blog. I write for the sake of writing, but sometimes I wonder if what I write and put out into the universe really matters; when these dark thoughts hit me, I write anyway. So here is to creating in spite of self-doubt, hopelessness, and depression. Here is to walking the spiritual path, when your mind turns against you. I keep coming back to my cushion and to pen and paper, or in this case the keyboard. I stop listening to my brain, and take right actions, which in this case is to create when I want to give up, do nothing, and just remain in a state of non-action. But here I am, writing despite my current thoughts and feelings, because my own experience has taught me that “this too shall pass.” I take refuge in the three jewels: the darhama, sangaha, and the buddha. I rest in the mystery of the Triune God. I am a living paradox, beyond any religious categories or roles.

Meditation Poem #90
last poetic words
just the beginning
of an endless journey

Unconventional Metta Practice

Spiritual life is something I have to live in the midst of my life. Sometimes, I suffer from the delusion that if I only have time I could dedicate more time to spiritual practices. I think intentional time set for prayer and meditation is very important, but so is incorporating spiritual practices outside of that intentional time.

I wanted to write a blog post about metta meditation practice, and thought it might be helpful to share my experiences with some more unconventional times and places, where I practice metta. Metta is Pali word is roughly translated as loving-kindess. There are different ways to do metta meditation practice, but here’s one way that’s part of my practice. There are numerous phrases one can use to wish oneself and others metta or loving-kindess, but my teachers have always told me to begin with myself. A simple phrase I use are: “may I be happy, may I be healthy and may I be free from suffering.” I am sure you’ve heard other versions, so use whatever phrase that comes easily to you. I first start with myself, someone I know in passing, someone I am close to, someone that’s I have difficulty with, then I often return to wishing myself metta before I move onto people in my neighborhood, then all beings near by, and then all sentient beings everywhere.

Most teachers tell you not to do metta for someone you are romantically involved with, but teachers like Judith Simmer-Brown from the Shambhalah Buddhist tradition have encouraged such practice. I was at a lecture she gave at Duke years ago, and she encouraged folks to do metta to loved ones. Traditionally, metta for those you are romantically involved have been discouraged, because there can be strong feelings of attachment and mixed emotions, but my own experience has been that it has often been helpful to do metta for my significant other.

Some of the more unconventional areas I like to practice metta meditation is when I drive, especially if I am stuck in rush hour traffic or on the highway due to an accident. I find this practice very grounding and helps me not to jump to road rage, and extend compassion to other drivers and even other living beings as I travel.

I also have begun to pratice metta around grief and loss, even extending it to the soul/life force of a departed person, and then usually some metta for friends and family of the deceased. As I said before, I find it helpful to return to practicing metta to myself and returning to it if I find my heart hardening or just hitting a wall, which can include drowsiness, tension, or other forms. Like all meditation practice, root yourself in your breath and body as you repeat these phrases. There’s no hard rules on how long you have to dwell on each person, but I typically like to spend some significant time with each person/subject I am wishing metta too. I typically like to do 20 minutes of metta meditation, but sometimes do shorter or longer practice depending on the occasion. Sometimes an hour long metta practice is needed on the highway, so I don’t loose my shit. 🙂 I also like to practice metta while my daughter naps, and extend loving-kindess to her. I used to practice metta meditation when she was a baby while I was holding her, which is a wonderful practice since you can feel your child breath and stomach rise and fall against your own rising and falling of your breath.

Meditation Poem Series: #64

There’s a Buddhist notion of cultivating bodhicitta, or empathy and compassion for all sentient beings. I know I often think of love as a feeling, but it’s something we can cultivate and grow into more and more. I really love this notion that we can cultivate kindess, love and compassion.

I think in the Christian tradition, I am always taken by even the worst sinners’ hearts can be awakened to Divine Love through an experience of mercy and grace. I have been especially contemplating why one thief on the cross was able to accept Jesus, and the other was not.

Meditation Poem #64
May compassion grow
in me and in you
each day