Death In The West

I was thinking about death. I do that allot lately.  So many people I know in my family and circle of friends have been afflicted by cancer or in other cases by simple misery – causing them to commit suicide. My husband suggested that it was because we were getting older – so of course more people were going to be dying.  But i know in my case that’s not really true. I have known allot more death than others, and with the recent loss of my brother and my friend it got me to thinking about how we see and handle death in our culture and what a mess we are.

Here in the west, we don’t spend allot of time with the idea of death. We ignore it, we institutionalize it, we avoid it and we misrepresent it in a million zillion ways.

Let’s talk a little logical Buddhism now.

Living is all about impermanence.  There is absolutely nothing, not one thing, on this earth that is going to remain for all time. I’m sorry if that is a shock to your system, or perhaps your mind is trying to figure out why I am wrong, but it is true. You’re going to die. Your dog is going to die. Your friends will die. Your parents will die. Your children will die one day too, everyone in their own time.

Impermanence is the first law of the universe. Everything must continue to change, pass through, and evolve. nothing is static. Everything is always evolving.

Sound logical?

Of course. Except that your mind and every cell of your body has been trained to believe otherwise.

Our culture is hyper-geared towards denying the continuity of change and the sureness of death.  We spend our entire lives waking up to fulfill desires that we believe that help us feel better so we can continue to deny the fact that we are going to die.

The average Western life is a travesty of delusion:

 First of all we invest our time on earth in jobs to buy things we can’t afford, like houses with mortgages that we spend our lives repaying. We spend our days buying things to impress our neighbours. We put countless hours and thought and energy into taking care of those things – manicuring the lawns, painting the walls and filling houses with useless things that require dusting.  Finally, if we are “lucky”, we get old and sit amongst the dust and memories of our “things” pining over the past which was fleeting and temporary – never guaranteed of permanence.

Not exactly a live-in-the-moment culture. Meanwhile our media pushes the importance of eternal youth as the solution to lasting happiness, and we imbue ourselves with technology, so we don’t have to have real relationships.

For God’s sake.

You can’t seriously wonder why the Donald trumps of the world are so popular. He epitomizes all I have just said.

Of course, Eastern philosophy is very different than here in the west namely through a significantly lower focus on material, and higher on spiritual goals in daily life; death is not a frightening mystery to most easterners.

I was watching a television show about Varanasi India,  a 3000 year old city in India and a place where many people go to die or be buried. It is believed that if you are cremated in a certain place in Varanasi, you can avoid certain aspects of reincarnation and become an enlightened being more easily.

I watched body after body, draped in colourful cloth and dotted with flowers and other symbolic items be carted to fires to be cremated.

What caught my attention were the children, trailing behind the procession of bodies, laughing and skipping merrily behind. They were not dressed in black made to weep with bowed heads.

“And they’re not traumatized”, i thought to myself. they look happy, and light and unconcerned with the whole thing.

We don’t show children in our culture death in this way, do we?  We don’t represent death as the normal transition – the beautiful life lived – the awesome way nature recreates itself through us, by letting us live the cycle of life.

Instead what do we show them about death?

Video games and movies.

Don’t let this be the first understanding of “death” that your child has!

We show them death in horrible horrendous ways that have nothing to do with reality.

We bring them to Ultimate Fighting Competitions where we let them watch humans beat each other like starving animals.

We hide the dying away in palliative care centers.

My children were surprised at the peacefulness of the experience of my mother dying. Although it is always painful to watch the end of a loved one’s life – it is in no way the dramatic and terrifying experience often portrayed in the media.

But we are so programmed. My mother asked me to die at the farm where I live – I am sorry today that i did not allow this to happen. The idea of it was so foreign and frightening to me at the time, that I simply could not entertain it. The irony is in how much I have learned from her death.

Dying is not a shameful act that needs to be institutionalized.  We are a culture terrified of the inevitable. We create religions that support our fears and cause us to do all manner of harm to one another in this life, for fear of what we don’t know about the next life. And we educate our children about everything under the sun – except who they are, as a creation, being and their own consciousness.

I remember most vividly H.H.the Dalai Lama in Perth saying that if we did nothing else differently after his talk, to go home and meditate or “contemplate” our own death, for ten minutes, every day.

At the time I thought it was the most bizarre suggestion i had ever heard, especially in my state of grief over the death of my mother. But I did it, because he seemed to be the most genuinely happy man I had ever seen, despite some very difficult circumstances, so i figured it was worth a shot.

I pictured myself on my death bed – at the point where the voices of the people I loved were fading around me, and I wondered what i would be thinking of right before “lights out”. I wondered what i would see, if I would see my loved ones, if my kids would be OK…I wondered…

The questions that came up on my “before lights out” tour of imagination, would translate into a focus for the day.  These contemplations had the effect of making me appreciate the moments of my life more. They were not morbid at all and over time this “meditation” has become a habit which has brought me comfort during times of grief.

When I consider every single thing that ails our culture and communities, I am able to bring it back to a fear and denial of our inevitable death.  I believe the Dalai Lama was right when he said that the solution for our planet lies in the individual efforts of everyone to focus on finding out who and what you are.

Something which you already know – but have covered up with what you have been taught.

It’s hard to find out what we have been taught about the world and what is important and not important is completely wrong. Of course we want to deny that and keep going the way we are, because that is easier. And we like easy.

We are all about easy, because we have desires and wants and we get up every morning and do everything we can to fulfill those desires and wants. That’s it.

The irony of our desires and wants is that mostly we don’t know where they come from or what need they are really fulfilling.  We are unconscious of them.

But the world in general is becoming more conscious.

There is no coincidence that there is a surge of interest in meditation and discussion around different forms of Buddhism emerging in western culture. All happening alongside a new interest in Hinduism, and “the Nouveau hippy” culture – (I think they call themselves “hipsters” – a materialistic form of non-materilaist (to be covered another time…it’s too good to pass up 😉) – but whatever form it takes, it is clear that the west is waking up (finally) and expressing a desire to know itself in a fundamentally new way.



The Magic Necklace

Many years ago I discovered the small shop in the water side tourist town of Ste Anne De Bellevue.  Unassumingly off to the side along the edge of the rolling st Laurence river neighboured by eclectic little restaurants and shops that offered a sea side multi-cultural experience to tourists and students alike.

I had spent a great deal of time in this place for many years off and on for different reasons; as a substitute teacher at the local high school, visiting friends or buying honey and cheese at the local farmer’s market on weekends.

When I discovered Shiva, the small Hindu store in Ste Anne’s my life was a maelstrom of conflicting emotions and I was clearly in the tumult of change. On that particular day, I was driving blindly to the Montreal General Hospital to see my mother, who had been suffering from cancer for about two years.  All of the relentless treatments they had given her had led to a depressed immune system, and a reinvigorated cancer that had found its refuge in other places when shunned by the treatments. I was to attend a meeting with her doctors about her end of life care.

Even though she had had “cancer” – an idea I had almost come to be accustomed to – the possibility of her death was a shock to me and it suddenly struck me, as I was driving, how final this was all going to be. I found myself crying nearly unable to move my car forward, so I took a quick turn off for the Ste Anne’s exit for a breath before facing this particular music.

I had never really noticed the small store with the colourful Hindu items in the window before. To tell you the truth, I’m not much of a shopper but I felt myself being drawn inside. I wiped my tears and went in to be greeted by the bright wide smile and shining eyes of Romi, the owner of the shop.  I tried to put on my best face but it instantly dissolved as I saw all the smiling Buddhas around me;

“Hello. My mother is dying”, I proclaimed to him flatly “And I need some help.” I stopped, unsure of what I was saying or doing.  I had meant to say I need to buy something to bring her.

I noticed Romi’s face had not changed. He was not shocked, or put off by my rush of emotion. He remained  undaunted, still leaning on the counter looking at me more serious now, but his eyes still smiled.  After a moment of stillness that allowed the gravity of my emotions to settle like dust in the sunny windows, he stood up straighter and smiled even more brightly;

“I have something for you,” he said, an Indian lilt in his words.

He disappeared behind a colourful mandala curtain, returning a few minutes later. I noticed he was limping – quite badly, like a handicap he had all of his life. I later learned he had polio as a child and somehow this made him even more authentic and brave to me.

He put a necklace on the glass counter for me to see. It was magnificent- a Tibetan necklace with a small oil vial, containing a beautiful bone etched ying and yang in the center. I understood immediately that this was for me and not for my mother, because the best gift I could give her was to focus on staying balanced within myself so I could offer her the best of what I had for all she may need me for.

I’m pretty sure I hugged him then. I felt incredibly relieved,  like the whole universe would always somehow catch me when things became too heavy to bear.

I went to the hospital that day with a renewed vigour, an open heart and an optimistic view of life, death and the absolute love I could have for my mother without being afraid of her leaving.  I was present and fully accepting of everything.  I walked through the hospital on a wave of happy and people all around me smiled. The world looked somehow brighter.

10169198_10152078709586476_5811091101471076124_n.jpgDo you think there was magic in that little vial?

I guess in a way there was. The kind of magic that happens every time two people come to help each other in that random anonymous way that keeps us believing that everything is possible.





Perth and Peace Here we Come!

**this was more like a journal entry so I never put it out but as I reread a couple of things (something I nearly never do) I saw this, the fresh reaction to see the Dalai Lama and just felt like tonight the message I and 20000 other people received might be useful. I left his talk with a full and hopeful heart…i hope you feel it yourself. Namaste


July 2015

Perth here we come! Farthest place from Montreal possible and its just AMAZING TO ME…that i will get to sit in the presence of His Holiness the Dalai Lama and other peacekeeping folks from all over the world. WOW!

My mom would have LOVED this…in fact, I’m pretty sure she is orchestrating the whole thing from on high…

She would have loved it all…even the hard stuff.

Even the places where we are challenged to stay centered and peaceful, but strong in desire to unite with non-violence, compassion and love.

yes – peace doesn’t mean nothing bad will happen

Peace doesn’t mean there is nothing to fight for

stand up for

be for

be against…

Peace means that we know we stand even in the middle of the storm and we will not break with the wind.

Wind is good.

It is alive and always changing. Just like the planet…and us. Same thing.

And here it is the weekend of wonders…

May all sentient beings know themselves as each other…Just for a day 😉

peace and joy to everyone on this celebratory weekend!


What was “supposed to be” a lovely afternoon in Perth with my husband attending a public talk being given by the Dalai Lama began with a long early morning walk following an argument with said husband the previous night. Dark despair hung over the state of my life (or lack thereof), my thoughts racing at five hundred miles an hour – I was clouded by anger and depression. Not to mention being in the most remote city in the world, Perth is the farthest place away from where I live as you can get on planet earth and I was very homesick. Finding no relief of course, just walking, crying and thinking, thinking thinking – Blech, I returned to our hotel where I planned to go to the room and just sleep until the event began later that afternoon.

Suddenly across the quiet street in the early Sunday morning sun a lone monk walked along purposefully towards the corner to cross the street, carrying a small “monk-bag” with his few possessions in tow. I sat on a bench and watched him in wonder as he carefully crossed the street busy now with cars directly in front of the area that HHDL would be giving his public address later that day. In my despair and desperation, I prayed with tears in my eyes that somehow he would see me, sense my pain and come over to me dissipating my sadness with a mere magical word or simply by his calm monkish energy. Frankly, I wanted to be saved.

But instead, the little monk continued straight on his path, casting me a last second glance as he turned the corner smiling from his eyes to mine, and he was gone – leaving me to my bench and my misery.

Sighing sadly, I looked across the street at the arena and noticed a man already beginning to set up railings and dividers where people would be entering the arena later on. I felt suddenly compelled to go over to the otherwise deserted arena grounds and find myself a place to sit in the sun and meditate or just sit quietly. 11430131_10155708405545230_3535353089662759863_n

I quickly felt at home on my little cement perch. It was similar to the other benches fashioned in cold hard concrete to match the ultra-modern Perth Arena, all of it made in triangles from the ground to the walls, like a giant seed of life. I noticed two older women sitting to my right, for two hours they interchanged and talked together. It made me think of my friends back home and the peace I get from exchanging with them. Crossing my legs on the cement bench I had adopted to the right of the arena in the sun, I closed my eyes and felt myself go unusually quickly into a space of calm and quiet. If there were thoughts and stories flying around my mind – I was no longer interested in them. I did however feel so grateful to be in a space where it seemed perfectly normal that a middle aged hippie in a shawl that looks like it would have fit nicely into Jesus’s wardrobe, or was at least that old, It seemed perfectly logical that I should be there for some reason and frankly no one even noticed me, like I was just part of the environment. 10153262_10155712578045230_7580152396624347619_n
Sooner – or later I opened my eyes on and off noticing small changes happening around me that weren’t there the last time I had opened my eyes. Some cars had pulled up behind me and a group of Tibetan nationalists had begun to gather at the bench beside me where the two women had now vacated. Men and women, young and older all dressed in stunning colourful regalia, the mood celebratory in anticipation of seeing His Holiness. They unraveled loving banners that said things like “Long Live His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama”, “Freedom for Tibet” and “May all sentient beings be free of suffering and its causes” written in English and Tibetan on a beautiful bright yellow banner.

For a moment out of my meditation I wondered if they would mind me being on this bench- was I in the way, out of place – did I belong there? So far from home, outside of my culture, I often felt out of place. But, they seemed to all just accept me as part of the environment, and I felt incredibly happy there, so I spent the next three hours sitting, breathing, smiling in the sun and simply watching.

Upon the next opening of my eyes, I saw that a small woman had arrived to my right and was standing stock still, her eyes steady and forward and her mouth making the small motions of a concentrated mantra. To her right another younger woman arrived and began doing the same thing, both women facing the street that the monk had walked up.10312970_10155712578565230_8383351763352390369_n

“Om Mani Padmi Hum” I could see them repeating the familiar mantra over and over. The same one I had been saying for over an hour now. They were there to do the same thing as I was – and this to me was simply amazing. Like God telling me I was ok, in the right place, doing the right thing.

Another meditation and I open my eyes – now there are four or five police cars directly behind me that I hadn’t heard drive up. Security for His Holiness is very very tight. There are dogs in one of the cars which delights some of the young Tibetan girls. Horses with cool looking tattooed police officers arrive, Clydesdale crosses looking gentle and fierce all at once. The young Tibetan girls go to touch the horses holding each others hands to have courage. These horses are much bigger than horses in Tibet or India I imagine.11401573_10155712577965230_4391333773173090076_n

My husband eventually finds me and suddenly we are soon surrounded by increased comings and goings of preparatory activities. Boxes with pamphlets being hauled around, security guards fill the place even a group of protesters forming across the street. These protesters claim HHDL told them they were “not allowed” to worship a certain deity because it was an angry one – or something. I have to admit to paying little attention to what felt like a small dark cloud in a very sunny place. My husband and I talk about how confusing this is since even not knowing as much about Buddhism or HHDL – being relatively new to this world, we can see clearly that his philosophy would never allow for the “prohibition” of any aspect of any religion – which of course he never would say, so were a little confused.

I close my eyes to the blue sky. The moving artwork beside me makes a noise like monks chanting ohm…
I allow all the activity around me pull me deeper into the quietness that is for now so easily accessed in my mind.

Open my eyes to newcomers to my perch: Paul and his wife Chris, a woman about my age who had lived in Dharamsala for three years right at the base of His Holiness’s refuge, where he landed after escaping from Tibet the brutal Chinese invasion of Tibet in 1959. I felt that by meeting her I was very lucky – almost like she made me feel closer to the source. Her warm brown eyes and gentle face outlined a soft German accent. She explained she had lived in Australia for only ten years, her husband for nearly 30. John and I both said later that we could feel a quiet presence from these people who have been practicing for so long – as though they are settled quite comfortably into their own skin and ego has vanished to be replaced with a quiet curiosity and a child like open heartedness.

I admit to her during our conversation that every time I learn just a little more about anything I feel as though I have stepped backwards ten steps and I know even less.

She laughed and said this was a good sign that I was on the right path.

“Every time you get more from seeing him”, she said speaking of her experiences listening to the talks of the Dalai Lama showing me the tip of her little finger. “Yes, You get just a little bit more, but I don’t think we are meant to know too much in this life – only to add to what we need for now, yes?”. She smiled allowing me time to consider this. Amazing.

Sometimes I have had encounters such as this one, which make me feel incredibly at peace and to know that I am exactly where I am supposed to be – even if that is on the other side of the planet from my home. I felt guided, protected and incredibly loved.

What a stark difference from my mentality and feelings of just a few hours ago!

And there was still unbelievably more to come…

John, my incredible partner seems to understand that I simply NEED to be at this place, on my perch, in the middle of “this” – whatever “this” was. He brings me food, an egg wrap and juice which I devour having not even noticed how starving I was until I smelled the delicious food. He sits beside me quietly, taking it all in. Then he offers to check us out of our hotel, take care of our bags and regroup with me to go into the arena in a while, leaving me to my vigil. I am incredibly touched and grateful for his understanding and support.

When he comes back, I introduce him to “our new friends” – to which he exclaims loudly
“I love new friends!”. This outburst was greeted by wide smiles by all around us, even the beautiful Tibetan’s who maybe couldn’t understand what he said, but surely felt his smile.
Chris Paul John and I speak for a while, exchange authentic gratitude at having met, and decide it is time to enter the arena.

We go in after a pretty serious but light hearted security check. No one is taking chances with His Holiness, and of course we all understand. Inside the new arena, we see an awesome open space and our fellow attendees milling about. There is a small area where they are selling books, so we make our way over.

On the tables there are only maybe 30 titles, some written by the Dalai Lama and other authors that support the concepts in Tibetan Buddhism. I see three stack of books through a crowd of book lovers with an adorable cat on the cover. The first is called “The Dalai Lama’s Cat”, the second and sequel is “The Power of Meow”, and the third “The Art of Purring”. A few volunteers scramble around behind three large tables positioned in a semi circle, while throngs of attendees jostle each other in quite a friendly way trying to see all the new titles they may not yet have heard about and chatting about books they had read.11400971_10155712578240230_8844396163056291188_n

The girl in front of me had short dark hair, a serious nose piercing and a wide honest smile.

“I love these books”, she said over the din smiling at me. “Do you have any questions?”

“I haven’t had the chance to read any of them, but I’ve heard the first one”,

“Oh yes, they are all great”, she replies.
“Ok, cool. So if you could only choose one of these which one would you pick?” I ask.

She points immediately to the third book. 10410176_10155719860135230_6249292884259123429_n
“This one,” she says without an ounce of doubt. “In the story the Dalai Lama challenges his cat to find the root cause of happiness while he is away on a long journey. Happiness is something I am very interested in”, she says smiling. ” So I like this one right now, the best”.

I snatch up the book and thank her whole heartedly. I notice an understanding pass between us. Maybe she saw my red rimmed eyes still from my emotional day and felt sorry for me. More likely she saw that I really wanted to understand something I didn’t even have a question for yet.

We find our seats and notice in front of us a row of monks arrived and two Buddhist nuns took up their seats as well. I felt very lucky sitting near their peaceful energy. I looked around and caught my breath as I realized that here we ALL were…delegates from every potential variety of human on the planet I am sure. Every race, creed, religion, old, young, rich, poor, happy, sad – all of it in one place.
The talk began with brief introductions and then a dance by local Aborigine tribe. It was an awesome dance – a calling in the ancestors to protect our space each of the two dancers demonstrating the elegant poses of the animals the represented; the pelican, kangaroo, and emu all beautifully obvious in the expression of the dancers dancing on the vibrations of the haunting and beautiful didgeridoo.
A tribal chief sings a welcoming and protective incantation and then, without any fancy introduction whatsoever, His Holiness just quietly walks out onto the stage, smiling away and chatting with a security team obviously accustomed to scrambling and keeping up with following His Holiness. My first impression of the Dalai Lama then was that well – he was full of beans. I was totally right

The dancers completed their amazing choreography and exited the stage. Another Grand Chief came and sang part of the Song line that the Aborigine’s are in charge of. History says that the aborigine of Australia are the oldest tribe existing on the planet and that, when creation occurred they were given the responsibility of singing the song that keeps the world in balance and harmony. Part of that process is that young men are sent on their walkabout at 13 and they have to fashion their own Didgeridoo. Then they have to sing their song line into the planet, like a seed, causing their vibrations to send healing into the earth. It’s a very powerful thing to witness.

And without ceremony, HHDL is there, at the microphone. He tells his translator and adviser that he wants to just stand and speaks.11407010_10155713603700230_1571014522016571166_n

“Hello my brothers…” and he looks around at everyone, “And my sisters…” smiling eyes – prayer pose hands on his heart.

I felt like he was looking directly at me…and everyone all at once.
His eyes sort of half closed and we could feel him sending out love or peace or something unbelievably awesome and unnameable to all of us. I feel like explaining it is very difficult but I have to say, after what he spoke about, for nearly three hours (and only a few days before his 80th birthday!) he had one bottom line, and that was “peace in the world isn’t going to happen until we can find peace within ourselves, first as individuals, then as family’s then as community’s nations and so on. It all has to come from what we do for ourselves every day. This was the outward message he sent anyways…but I was to discover that the effect of this talk simply goes on and on.

At the end of his talk HHDl cracked us all up by simply saying
“OK I’m done now. You can all go home and take your problems with you!”, hhahaaha!! The audience laughed gleefully. meaning that he emphasizes that the only place to find happiness is inside ourselves and so, carrying our probes around wasn’t very productive. We all laughed, but I also felt a sense of relief in the air, because obviously there were many others who may have come in to that place with a “brick cloak” full of problems, but it seems that after it, the cloak had simply disappeared.

It changed what I pay attention to, and what I give meaning to. It changed how I see change. It allowed me at accept more fully the benefits of being more compassionate to myself and thinking more of others and not being so focused on myself all the time. That was a very lonely place. It allowed me to get excited about my day. I was so energized at this talk I stayed awake to navigate john home, chattering and unable to stop being in awe of what had just happened for the entire 4 and a half hour flight followed by the additional 2 1/2 hours it took us to get home for what should have been a one hour an fifteen minute drive. But we just kept getting lost, turning in circles. John was incredibly exasperated but he stayed jovial nonetheless. Normally it would make me frustrated if he was mad and getting lost in the middle of the night driving through terrifying kangaroo lands on dark scary Australian stretches of highway. I have an old tendency to react like an injured dog when I am frightened – but I KNOW this about myself and suddenly I am laughing instead of being nervous or scared, and we are having a good time and laughing at our ridiculous lack of direction in this foreign land.

HAPPINESS…we were really enjoying the feeling.

Every day is foreign land for all of us, no matter where we live. It starts off as a great mystery, and we all know anything can happen. You can win the lottery, find true love, get the job, get the car – whatever it is, we have all believed there is something OUT THERE that will be found to make all the irritations inside you go away. But this will never happen. No matter how good, or chaste or decent or well behaved you are – there is absolutely nothing on the outside that can bring you the kind of happiness you can find within yourself. I think this is indeed, a universal truth.

Seeing the Dalai Lama strips away all of the unnecessary worries and refocuses you on your primary purpose – to be HAPPY.

So, my new mission – well – the only mission I will have each day is to be responsible for my own  happiness.  I want to be happy now, not just to ease my own personal pains and suffering of this life’s journey, like we ALL have, but more because I want to be useful – I want my life to mean something and to help people. That’s it. not complicated Not easy – but not complicated.

Oh, by the way, not to give away anything but…at the end of the book, the Dalai Lama returns to his cat, and reveals to him the single most important secret to achieving happiness…
I’d like to tell you, but I won’t. I’d like you to think of that for yourself.
Or read the book 😉

Namaste 11412211_10155712578335230_1288213076459646474_n