When a loved-one passes away, there are so many emotions that it can be overwhelming. Coupled with work, it can seem like there is no option but to recover quickly and get on with life-as-usual. But doing so holds many negatives…
Some people turn to drugs and alcohol to deal with loss and pain. The problem with that is that, even though it might help in the moment, long-term it has severely debilitating effects on how you can move forward in life. Mood-altering substances produce confusion in the brain. Though used for the supposed purpose of healing, they hinder the ability of the mind to go through the motions of grief and then navigate back to how to deal with reality.
By numbing and denying, one not only loses the way, but also denies the pain and shuts down important aspects of the relationship, such as memories of the person, feelings for them, and urges thought why are gone. This denial buries these feelings in the subconscious where they affect the future of the griever through illness, stress, emotional instability, and other happenings that are opposite to real healing. In a way, the person who is gone can never find peace, and the person who is grieving can never really move on.
Rather than pushing through grief with resilience and control, Ossefort-Russel believes and I concur, that “the terms fortitude, bear-with-courage, transform, and humility underlie a story that honors the strength” of being honest to your feelings when someone passes away.
I hold the strong belief that without those feelings of acceptance, you deny the person their existence, pushing them away into the nether world so that you can get back to business-as-usual. It lacks integrity. One needs to accept their loss in order to honor them, and it can take a long time to recover when you aren’t denying it in your heart through resilience.
Silence, mindfulness meditation (feeling the pain in your body, thoughts, memories… and letting it go), journaling, sharing your feelings with someone close, therapy; these are all ways that you can honor your grief and also your loved-one. Feel it to the fullest and let it go; this will honor both your feelings and the person who was so very important in your life.
These methods are ways that one can truly move forward with integrity and become a deeper and more truly resilient person in the end, through acceptance and change.
Yesterday I woke up really early, before dawn, and went to practice Mindfulness Meditation at the Buddhist temple near my house.
I have been studying Mindfulness Meditation for about two years now.It was originally developed by Jon Kabbat Zinn at the Harvard Medical School for treating people with chronic diseases such as Cancer and chronic pain. Over the 30 years since it’s inception, its uses have expanded to include everything from severe mental disorders to stress, and where it seems to work best is in the realm of the mind. Thousands of studies have supported the case for it’s use in psychology to benefit society.
There are many kinds of meditation, including guided meditation and chanting. I have practiced those, too. Before coming to Japan, I lived in San Francisco and tasted a variety of different kinds. But my first experiences with it I have to credit to my mother, who would sit with me and guide me into it as a child. I remember many times finding the light in my heart and finding peace as well. She says I used to sit for about 45 minutes in silence by myself, and some mysterious things happening, like once I came back and said that “Grandma and Grandpa are on an airplane from Europe!” Which was true, and I had no way of knowing it because we hadn’t spoken to them and they hadn’t told us. I remember in my teens meditating on the moon, and that was when I started to see beautiful circles of colored light, kind of like what I’ve heard can be seen on the screen in biofeedback. That happens a lot.
But my recent studies in meditation haven’t been spiritual. They are more geared towards regulating my emotions. Life can get stressful, for everyone, and it has been proven to be most effective for that. That being said, it isn’t just for making you calm.
The way it works is you sit in a comfortable place, preferably not too comfortable so that you don’t go to sleep. You close your eyes, take a few deep breaths, and then just start to watch. You watch how you breathe. You scan your body from the tip top of your head to the soles of your feet. You notice your breath. You feel yourself becoming calmer and calmer, relaxing your body when you feel tense places, allowing your body to adjust into a peaceful state. You watch your breath. Come back to it. You listen carefully to the things around you. Further and further away. Then come back to the breath.
Over the course of this, your mind will invariably wander, and that is wherein the key lies. When you notice that your mind has wandered, you gently come back to the breathe. How it enters your body. How your stomach lifts. The tip of your nose where it comes in. And then your mind at some point will wander again. And you gently come back to the breath. You become mindful of your mind.
This is the key to mindfulness meditation in the school in which I practice. It begins with watching the wandering mind. But with time and practice, one begins to notice their thoughts. You can label them, and then begin to put thoughts, memories, emotions, urges, into ‘buckets’ and label them. You begin to notice what it is that preoccupies your mind and causes you stress.
And then here’s the real kicker. Once you get good at that, you start to notice it when you aren’t meditating. In the act of doing something out of character or experiencing something uncomfortable. You begin to realize how your reactions to life affect it. And that is something.
With this knowledge, you can move forward in life. I would say that most of us live life without really examining how we live or why we do things. We are creatures of habit. But once you begin to notice how you affect your own life, you begin making different decisions.
So, anyway, back to the temple. So I figured it was Sunday, and the old monk had invited me to listen to the ancient drumming and bells anytime I wanted… But he does it at 6:30AM. So I had woken up early on a Sunday, and decided to do the things that people do on Sundays when we want to feel particularly close to God, whatever we may deem them to be. I went to the temple and began to meditate. It was locked, and he was not up yet, so sat on the steps. At one point, he opened the door slightly and I greeted him, but stayed there watching the morning. He played the drums and bells. The little birds came out. The sky changed, exploded in a dawn of color and then mellowed into a gentle morning. The leaves of the trees swayed, and I listened.
The monk is pretty old, in his mid 80’s, but so full of life, very energetic, and loves to teach. He told me about the equinox holidays in Japan. The spring and fall equinoxes are days of rest in this country. He says that the days surrounding them are important, too. The three days before and the three days after have an important Zen Buddhist function, and the entirety of the week is referred to as Higan.
During the three days before the equinox, one should practice these three things: you should be generous with others, keep your promises, and strive to be patient and open-minded.
After the equinox, you should: gaman (refrain from excesses and persevere), meditate, and study the wisdom of the scriptures (here, he emphasized that it should not be ‘human’ wisdom, because humans are not pure of thought).
After he told me, I thought that maybe this is why many Japanese people consider patience, quiet listening, and perseverance to be essential elements of their culture.
Had this hopeful future been the case when I was in school, I might have become a physicist.
But because my ability in math was based on time, not actual ability, I was even derided by the teacher in my precalculus class.
That being said, the Fractal of Life, in all its complexity and confusion has led me here, and actually anywhere is really okay. It is the journey, and feeling it, that matters.
At some point maybe the world education system will realize that there is a reason Finland’s education system (wherein children are not given homework and are allowed freedom after only three hours of school) has been top-rated worldwide. Maybe they will see that rather than trying to control and test what has been literally crammed into delicate grey matter, it is ultimately better to allow our infinitely more-intelligent-than-us yet extremely naive children to explore their world. After all it is theirs, and they will all tell you their concerns for the future, which are very real… Actually, there may be a correlation with the education system and the fact that Finland is also famous for its social support and peace in its society. It is consistently rated one of the top happiest countries on Earth according to the Happiness Index.
But it may take destroying all we have for reasons included in the Seven Deadly Sins (there is a reason they are called that), before we change our idiotic ways from control and fear of the unknown, to trusting and allowing guided growth. In that healthy future, people might choose very different careers. They might choose happiness instead of money, an in doing so really be alright financially.
In fact, people would be much happier because they would have been training since a young age to follow their interests instead of what they are force-fed to think is what they have to do. In this, the overall quality of everything, from furniture to management would improve, because only those who thought that they were good at something would pursue it, and they would know it from their elementary education.
I was once told by Dr. Fujii, the Japanese traditional garden specialist, that the reason Japanese garden trees have changed so much is this. In ancient Japan, the trees were pruned for the way they wanted to grow. This style of pruning can still be seen in Kyoto, and the most beautiful example I have ever seen is the tiny private garden in the imperial palace there.
Now they are pruned to force them into what is considered the proper form, or what is most convenient for the space. They are caricatures of what they could be, and the gardens suffer for it visually.
The trees, like the children, are being stunted, forced to fit into a mold, and not allowed to become the greatest they could be.
The last of the Amazon Rainforest is being torn down and scorched to ashes. I can feel it. It is a horrible. It is a classic example of the Tragedy of the Commons. The Rainforest has no physical owners… That anyone with power RESPECTS anyway. They are too wise for their own good in this small-minded modern world, and instead call themselves “Guardians of the Forest”. Also, they have no money, and in this story, people with money are greedy assholes who want more. So with guns, bulldozers, and flamethrowers, they take it. It’s not hard. Because to be a guardian is to understand that nothing in the world is yours. Not your children or your spouse. Nor your pet or your house. Philosophically speaking, we own nothing. We are born with nothing, and we die with nothing. Ownership is an illusion formed by society so that we can create rules and systems… But the rainforest does not work inside our little boxes.
The sad thing is that, we are so obsessed with what we have and what we want, that we have forgotten that what is shared is our greatest treasure. Our greatest moments of humanity are spent when we are together in some way, sharing an experience. A concert, an exhibit, an awestriking view, a traditional family dinner, an anniversary, a trip to the park. It is when we give to each other. When we forget “this person is MINE” and instead stare in wonder at the person we love after they have done something that strikes us at the depths of our souls… The sad thing is, the Rainforest and its Indigenous inhabitants are a gift to us all. Like the artists at an exhibit, or the band at the concert, or our loved-one who is not ours but is there for us out of simply being there. We could have sat at dinner with the Rainforest and enjoyed her wonders, and instead we rape her and steal and burn. So that we can have a steak dinner with our loved ones who we know so much better. We don’t need the steak dinner… because just like too much sugar, the loss of the forest is going to kill us. Because we are so small, in our little societal boxes, we fail to see that this is going to be our undoing. Our individual greed translates to a colossal demon that is ripping the forests out, vomiting on the oceans, and creating agricultural deserts of nothing but “green”, because it is something inedible that does not contribute to the global ecosystem — meaning no one else can use it except for us. At the same time we increasingly commit atrocities within the social system, underneath our own noses and behind closed doors in the name of “science” for the next LD50 or to test the physical testicular load on rats so that we can see the best supplement for testosterone production. Ridiculous!!! What a joke. The Tragedy of the Commons is no less ridiculous than it was when first coined, and no less deadly. Because whatever is not owned by someone more powerful than anyone else, is going to be abused and destroyed in the name of…. Whatever anyone feels like saying!! “We are going to test on all sorts of little animals, because, well, they aren’t human.” So WHAT?! “We need more cows, so uh, we’re just going to build this farm right here where thousands of species are living now but will disappear.” What if it were OUR SPECIES?!
The Indigenous people’s religions in the USA and Mexico were misconstrued 450 years ago. They did not believe in this Father Sun God or that Mother Rain God. They believe that actually, the rain is their family member, the plants are their family members also. Because they are. Even in the Bible it says that man is to be steward; that means a guardian, not an abusive owner.
And if humanity is able to survive the next hundred and fifty years, it will be because we were somehow able to move past our little boxes, into a wider philosophy that protects the Commons, we found some sort of protection for the Commons, or we lost everything we had and somehow from the garbage left over from our ancestors, we built a new philosophy. One about being sisters and brothers with everything around us, because in the end, that is the only way we can maintain the world “for seven generations” after our own. And the land we stole, we took from the wise who had lived here 20,000 years already, and would live indefinitely, in their family of man and sky and land, enjoying concerts, exhibits, traditional family dinners, and trips to the park, had we not come.
Indigenous Lives are at stake… by our own hands. Please be conscious of your purchases, buy reused goods, eat more vegetables and fruit, and breathe in the moment. “This is OUR Earth, most friendly Earth and fair, daily her sea and shore, through sun and shadow, faithful she turns robed in her azure air…”
Perhaps there is truth in the magic of dates. On September 11, 1999 an unimaginable tragedy occurred in New York, as America woke up to the crumbling and enflamed Twin Towers.
On September 11, 1966 on the other hand, a story of warmth and humanity contradicting what has been taught in American High Schools for so long, was happening in Australia. This story reframes humanity and gives hope.
When I was in high school and junior high, almost all of the books we were forced to read were dark accounts of humanity, the evils of society and our world. The Grapes of Wrath, Of Mice and Men, and The Lord of the Flies are titles that everyone recognizes. My fellow students and I all wondered why we were subjected to a deluge of darkness at the dawn of life, and rightly so.
Now I see this wonderful story, the true story of the Lord of the Flies, not written by a bitter drunkard, but by the true history of six boys stranded on a deserted island and how they survived for a year and a half all alone by the goodwill of their hearts, comraderie, and their sheer determination.
I have often thought that literary education stands to change. I believe it is ridiculous that our youth should be subjected to suffer through these books, when much more optimistic ones abound. And clearly, as it is proven here, that dark view of society is simply not the only truth, and certainly not the only one we should be giving our next generation. I call for a cleansing of the shelves, a reevaluation of what is important so that we can envision and create a brighter and more human future.