About death and other things
Why is it that most of the people just aren’t able to talk about death, not even be with someone who suffered a loss and help one to get over it? What happened to the societies that made death a tabu? If we don’t even know what exactly is death, then how to understand and even harder: to accept it? We can’t even tell if it’s a process, a cycle, a situation, a moment, a fact or just a reality!
I remember when I just started to become a Buddhist practitioner and during the guided meditation we were “meditating on death and impermanence” we had to imagine our own moment of death, e.g. in a car accident or whatever came into our minds and observe the emerging uncomfortable sensation. It was supposed to be an aversion against this moment and death in general showing us that we are afraid of it because we haven’t really started to live. All with the final goal to understand that we need to work with our minds and transform them or ourselves in order to live meaningful. To make the story short: I had no such uncomfortable feeling. There was just nothing. No fear, no aversion, no panic. Just nothing. Now that worried me. It couldn’t be possible that I was so indifferent towards my own death! I approached our meditation guide and he recommended to find another way to “get close” to the idea of death in order to experience the emergency of change. Still nothing happened.
After one meditation class I was on my way home and passed by the entrance of a metro station. In the late rush hour were still a lot of people in hurry to reach their homes, and as it is sadly normal in big cities, no one had a look at one particular old women standing completely at a side with a shoe-box full of sweets, candies and chewing gum holding in her arms. She was just staring into huge black hole in front of her, not caring about the running people, not noticing anybody, not even making an attempt to be noticed in order to sell some candies.
The moment I saw her I started crying - just to vary a little bit. I mean, there is something about old people that makes me cry since I was a little girl. But this time I realised that I was deeply touched by her appearance because I could see my fears and neurosis in her, it was a clear moment in which I understood why I couldn’t do the meditation properly: I wasn’t afraid of dying rather than afraid of growing old alone and abandoned, unloved and uncared. I was terrified of getting old per se. And that’s why I developed the neurosis about buying, collecting and of course using all these kind of cosmetics - refreshing cream for the eyes, extreme hydrating cream for the face, a lifting body lotion and an anti cellulitis serum for butt and legs, of course the anti ageing face peeling and accordingly the body scrub, then the whole collection (obviously) of make up with the same rejuvenating attributes to hide my imperfections and to lighten my plus spots etc. etc. etc.
That I had taken this over from my mom, I was conscious about, but that I took this to an extreme of a neurosis, that was new for me. I understood all this just in a few seconds lasting enlightening moment, then I went over to that ancient women, gave her some coins without wanting anything and thanked her in my mind for being my precious teacher, for having taught me this priceless lesson of myself and one aspect of my dark side (maybe not the darkest, but still it was enough an obstacle to keep me from growing internally). I kept giving her money for the rest of the time I was living in Mexico City, always with the huge feeling of gratitude paired with an immense sense of compassion, wishing each time that not one single person might be alone and abandoned when old.
So what now? A few years later, I’m still not really afraid of death itself, but I’m afraid of what comes after and I got obsessed with this topic looked at from the Buddhist side. I took a meditation course on how to die consciously (Phowa) and read the Tibetan book of death in order to be prepared for when someone (it might be me…) dies. A few weeks later I got the news about the death of my youngest uncle in Germany. I was in Nepal, in Boudhanath to be precise, practically surrounded by Tibetan Buddhist monasteries and very close to the biggest stupa on earth. So I went to many of them to ask the monks to pray for my uncle in reward leaving a small amount of money, I went to the stupa to lit candles and I prayed for him by myself. Of course I was sad about him passing away but all the small rituals I performed helped me to get over it - alone. ‘Cause strangely when it comes to death no one is able to help you, to be with you, to hold you. It’s not about finding the right words to say, it’s just to show a little bit of empathy. We all have suffered the loss of someone, so why can’t people hold strong together - above all in a situation like this?
My uncle passed away in August this year, now in the beginning of November another tragic news reached me: My cousins wife shot him, the two eight and six years old sons and at the end herself in the head.
It was a brief e-mail from my father in the style of “dear daughter, I hope you’re well and in good health? I have tragic news … I am very sad but life needs to go on. Well I hope you are enjoying your time and in good company. With affection, your dad.”
It was on the first day of a three months lasting event with great masters of Tibetan Buddhism, I was still under the symptoms of a slight concussion (means: sensible) and anyhow very emotional because I felt kind of left beside from my parents, who never call me, never write a mail - only if I write first, and now my father couldn’t even try to find out a better way to reach me.
I was at shock. No clue how to digest something like this. I went back to the Institute I was staying, logged in and skyped with a good friend who is an excellent psychologist. I asked him to help me, not as a friend but as a professional, and he did very good. When I finally called my dad from my mobile I could hear that he was more shocked to hear my voice than because of the tragic incident and the loss of my cousin who was like a son to him. He called me back once, my mom never called nor made a real attempt to know what happened… My best friend asked me after my Facebook status saying that I have one trauma after another in a mail what happened, but never replied when I told her (by the way: I remembered in this occasion -a few years ago a good friend and his sister were killed also with a shot in the head and I called my best friend, crying and telling her that I was trying to reach him and to reestablish contact but it was too late now… And she just replied something like ‘that sucks, hm!” - now it feels the same…)
After two weeks even my friends and buddhist companions around me stopped asking me, if I’m well. I mean, apparently I am, but I don’t want to run around either demanding everyones attention. If they don’t want to, why should I be the annoying girl in need of an ear and a shoulder to talk about how I feel, to cry once again over that event, asking them to help me?! Why is it that people, even the closest ones, just block themselves when it comes to death?
There is one really dear friend I am talking to, even through a huge distance and over 9 hours of time difference. He is pretty much the only one who still listens to me. Honestly? I wonder what makes him so different in order to stand me? Because I understand that it must be annoying to listen all the time to an emotional girl, but isn’t it what not only friendship is about, but also empathy, a kind heart being there for someone who needs a little bit of support? I confess: he is like this.
Anyhow: It’s been three weeks now, and I still feel like crying. And I cry. Alone. And I retreat from others, from my family, from my friends, from my companions. I retreat because their inability to be there when I could definitely need some support hurts and because I feel that I’m not allowed to demand any attention from anyone (and if I do for example in de with my mother she complains that I’m exaggerating). But also because the teachings and empowerments are really going deep and there is this inner struggle of my ego to survive.
Before leaving Mexico to start my journey towards India, I dreamed that I would die. In the dream I wasn’t afraid of dying, nor panicked. I was completely calm and in peace, even when I woke up it felt perfectly fine. A friend interpreted this dream as the actual me dying and she wished that this old me would die and a new one would be born. Today, in a moment of perfect loneliness, I cried again (eye roll) but this time because I started to realise, that now, I’m dying. This old, annoying me is being erased and I’m in the hard and sometimes painful process of gesture.
Isn’t it with death the same? You struggle to survive because of your clinging and grasping to your ego, your life, possessions etc.? You fight against death or transformation because you are afraid of the change, you are afraid of the unknown, afraid of the next life or person to be.
Definitely, I am bloody scared but also curious and looking very much forward to see the result. And I hope that this renewed me will be always compassionate, affective and empathic enough to share the difficult moment of death and loss with others.
Kirsten Liliane López Lüke
Bir, India on November 30, 2012
May these words be for the benefit of all sentient beings.