This morning, I awoke with a vivid recollection of numerous moments throughout my life. It didn’t feel like what the Buddhists call “monkey mind,” the onslaught of chaotic, rapid disconnected thoughts that cause agitation or coagulate into a rigid storyline.
It felt more like the simultaneous visitation of life moments beyond time and space. Hard to explain. It was more than just the visual representation of long-ago moments. It was the presence of positive feelings associated with all of them.
I remember I used to say to myself “which one was my home?” when reflecting on all the changing relationships and situations throughout my adult life. As I have experienced three sudden deaths in my family this year, this question often comes to the fore with a gentle intensity. Gentle in the sense that there is no urgency to answer the question. Intense in that this question is the primary, all-encompassing one at this time in my life.
Tibetan Buddhist teacher/scholar Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche often wrote about “the genuine heart of sadness.” He defines this sadness as an all-encompassing vulnerability, the ability to hold in one’s heart the whole spectrum of the human condition all at the same time without filters, without anger or regret, without fear, and most importantly, without romanticism. Put another way, all of these feelings both positive and negative can be present simultaneously, and can be accepted, too, as part of that spectrum. The idea is that when we really look at life in a truly real way, the painful, the beautiful, and the terrifying … if we can really be with that, a feeling of kinship for all things sometimes percolates and we feel a sweet kind of sadness.
That is the feeling I woke with this morning, and I would like to honor those life moments that cascaded through me as I slowly opened my eyes. I’ll just list a few of those moments without much elaboration.
The deep regret and anguish on my frail father’s eyes last October, as I spread my sister’s ashes at sea. He died unexpectedly six months later.
The feeling of “home” whenever I hear country music, which I was introduced to in the early 1980s when my mother, sisters and I sang at country & western jamborees.
The bag of rotting lobster shells filled with maggots, underneath the Route 295 bridge in the summer of 1980 in my hometown Portland, Maine. I was 10 years old at the time and vividly and immediately recognized that death was a part of all this, and sometimes disgusting and undignified.
The taste of Dr. Pepper and Alexander the Grape candies, mixed with the smell of the Nissen Bread factory, located at the bottom of Munjoy Hill where I once lived with my sister and father. My life in Portland, Maine was not a happy one, by any means, but there was the feeling of “home” that has never left me.
Now, that my sister and father have both died without saying “goodbye”, that feeling of “home” is a deeply private place now that nobody alive can ever really share with me.
There are many homes I’ve experienced over the years -jobs, friendships, projects and social scenes I identified with. Now, they are all gone and their memory feels like a series of foreclosures. There has always been an ending beyond my control, even if the ending was a positive transition to something else.
I recall that the original Guautma Buddha of 2,500 years ago equated the liberated heart with “homelessness”. Letting go of vanishing realities and impermanent phenomena is akin to dying into all things. Maybe this is what the genuine heart of sadness is all about.
It just might be that the recognition of my powerlessness over death is bringing me closer to home than I ever was.