"Mindfulness and Meditation allow us to open our hearts, relax our bodies, and clear our minds enough to experience the vast, mysterious, sacred reality of life directly. With Practice we come to know for ourselves that eternity is available in each moment.

Your MMM Courtesy Wake Up Call:
Musings on Life and Practice
by a Longtime Student of Meditation

Thursday, June 19, 2014

It's a Family Affair

(Once again, this week's workload helping my brother Hal through the challenges of creating a "new life" here in Oklahoma prevented me from spending Thursday morning with my "blog meditation".  I decided to reprint a post from the past once more, going back a year this time to see what was going on at that point in my life.  Amazed by the Grand Synchronicity, I discovered that last year about this time I had written "It's a Family Affair", a contemplation about my experience of meditating on the grounds of what had been St Therese's Hospital, the site of the birth of my first child -- and the death of my father.  

Poised to return hOMe to Western Massachusetts tomorrow morning, full of gratitude for the richness of this Life, the Web of Being that extends from the genetic foundation of "blood family" through our kinship with all sentient beings, I offer you this week's "golden oldie."
 -- Lance)

First published, June 14, 2013

 "Let me respectfully remind you, life & death are of supreme importance.   Time passes swiftly and opportunity is lost.  Each of us must strive to awaken.  
Awaken! Take heed, do not squander your lives." 

---A traditional Zen Exhortation recited by the Eno at the end of Evening Service  at Zen Mountain Monastery

Today I meditated under a tree about a hundred yards or so from where I saw my eldest daughter Persephone born in 1972--and witnessed the death of my father in 1975.  Though I sat in formal meditation for only ten minutes or so (my son Joshua was walking nearby with a sleeping Granddaughter Amelia in the her stroller), I had the opportunity, at least momentarily, to once again open my heart to the Profound Immensity of Life/Death in a way that most folks in this society probably haven't allowed themselves to consider possible--or even desirable. 

I'm incredibly grateful to the teachers, teachings and practices that have allowed me to experience even the tears that flowed during those moments as an outright blessing, to feel again the utter Preciousness of Life.

Afterwards, Josh, sleeping Amelia and I continued walking the grounds of what was once St. Therese Hospital (Now owned by Vista Health System) in Waukegan, IL talking about our rather tumultuous family history.  It's been that sort of week.

All too often within families, the death of a loved one is accompanied by a great deal of "unfinished business".  Rarely is there a willingness and ability to engage in the type of deep, open, and honest communication about our lives--and our deaths--that could serve to heal the inevitable wounds inflicted and incurred in the course of a normal life.  In a society that, in the main, has lost sight of the Sacred possibilities of Forgiveness and True Human Love, the grief of the ultimate loss is often compounded by the anguish of guilt and regret.

When I read Who Dies?: An Investigation of Conscious Living, Conscious Dying by Stephen Levine years ago, I took the first step toward approaching my death intentionally, as an integral part of my life and practice.  Although I had already had a set of "peak experiences" that had dissolved a fundamental fear of death, I saw pretty clearly that there was a lot of work to be done within my own family.  It was going to take a deepening of my own personal practice and a lot of communication with my loved ones before I would be able to "let go" and take that last breath "in peace". 

A couple of years later, I was fortunate enough to attend "Healing Into Life and Death", a five day retreat presented by Stephen and Ondrea Levine.  The two of them were masterful in creating a sense of community among the 300 or so folks gathered there, about a third of whom were terminally ill. Amidst the hours of meditation, guided meditations, interpersonal exercises, talks and discussions, I first touched an essential form of forgiveness: the ability to forgive myself for the countless ways that I had caused harm to those I loved, intentionally or unintentionally.

As time has gone on it has, once again, become clear that even the deepest experiences are ephemeral as I've stumbled and bumbled ahead in life.  Yet,  although I still blunder quite regularly--and I can and do feel moments of guilt and shame emerge and dissolve--it is also quite clear that something had shifted, something had healed.  That experience has enabled me to more quickly extend and accept forgiveness.  This has helped me to slowly and carefully engage in the needed conversations over the years with those I love. 

The work, of course, isn't done.  I don't suspect it will be until I do take that last breath. 

But, at this point, that seems fair enough.

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