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Thread: The pain of loss

  1. #1

    The pain of loss

    Hello dear sangha members,

    I have been coming face to face with the irrational ways I deal with loss lately.

    While working in my apartment today, my landlord and the handyman she works with broke part of my bed. Even though it is a superficial part of the bed that can be repaired and goes in a spot that is out of sight, my emotional reaction to this was big. And this was not unusual. Damage to beloved objects can trigger intense and profound compulsive rituals to repair or erase the damage, or get rid of or replace the object altogether.

    Accompanying these efforts to undo what cannot be undone is a deep feeling of melancholy. I am aware of how irrational this is, often even when it is in the midst of happening. I tell myself these are just things, destined to break and decay.

    But I've realized that the emotion triggered by these small events is tied to something much deeper. I usually forget and move on from loss of physical objects after the initial fit of obsession. But something else lingers on. It is tied to the very fact of the inevitability of loss.

    There is something painful, yet more than just painful, unsettling, about life in the face of loss. It is hard to think that some day everyone and everything I've ever loved will be gone. That all the things that held meaning for me, the objects so rich with associations in memory, will break or become inert objects, neutral, stripped of all the meaning they had for me.

    The hardest thing is that the love built slowly over decades and through pain and sorrow will too end someday. I think this is where the human tendency to believe in an afterlife may come from, the almost impossible thought of death severing the bonds of love.

    Life can be so hard at times, and loss makes all that hardship feel meaningless sometimes.

    I think I may be feeling this so acutely right now because I am finally in a place, physically and inwardly, where I am ready to settle down, to build a life with the wisdom I have gained. But even this optimistic moment is tinged with loss. I am seeing my parents get older, and reflecting on all the ties I have already lost. So many of the friends I've had are gone. And as my own aging process continues, I am aware of the narrowing margin of time to meet someone and start a family. The job I have right now is a backward step in my career. The country seems to be going backwards politically.

    The fact that nothing can be held onto is painfully apparent.

    And I know the torrent of compulsive denial of feeling when I hold a broken object in my hand is bigger than that object. It is the pain of awareness that I cannot save anything I cherish from time, decay, and mortality. I cannot take a snapshot and freeze my life inside a favored set of circumstances. For every small victory, there is a greater context of loss.

    How do we practice with this? Have others wrestled with this central issue of human existence? It just seems so hard to accept that as powerful as love is, it is to time what writing in sand is to the ocean.


  2. #2

    Re: The pain of loss


    These are just the ramblings of an old fool, so please take them for what they are.


    Echu, called Kokushi, the teacher of the emperor, called his attendant, Oshin, three times and three times Oshin answered, "Yes!" Kokushi said, "I thought that I had offended you, but in reality you offended me!"
    - Mumonkan, case 17

    The Kokushi called his attendant three times and each time the attendant showed up, with a fresh mind and just answered yes!
    I mean
    run run run, open door, bow, answer "yes!"
    "Oh, it was nothing"
    Attendant bows, closes door, walks away.

    As the attendant gets a bit away, "attendant!"
    run run run, open door, bow, answer "yes!"
    "Oh, it was nothing"
    Attendant bows, closes door, walks away.

    As the attendant gets a bit away,"attendant!"
    run run run, open door, bow, answer "yes!"
    "I thought i had offended you there but in reality you got me".

    I believe that most people would have shown up a bit frustrated aif not the second time, but the third, but the attendant just shows up, says yes!, ready to be the attendant.
    Nothing more.
    Thats how you do the "just sitting" thing, in my opinion.

    Now as far as loss goes, Buddhism, in this old fools perspective, teaches "you're not alone, everything is connected and everything changes".

    So how do we deal with it?
    Some don't care, some do.
    Either way is good.
    It's also ok to break down and come again.
    But don't get to attached to the moment, do what you gotta do, whether it be crying, yelling, whatever, and move on, perhaps strengthened by the experience.

    You know, there's an old fool here around Treeleaf that always says it's all good practice, well so is this, if you choose that.

    Thank you for this opportunity to practice.

    (I will probably write more, so you can get another bite from the apple, but i gotta dash to work)

  3. #3

    Re: The pain of loss

    Nothing to add to what Chugai says and yet, it is the hardest things of all, to let go of folks. Owning is so much something we deeply own until death, parting, and all those difficult things make us realize that from the starless start and until the endless end, we own nothing and weight less than a breath.



  4. #4

    Re: The pain of loss

    Quote Originally Posted by Fugen
    These are just the ramblings of an old fool, so please take them for what they are.
    How is 34 old? :wink:

  5. #5

    Re: The pain of loss

    How do we practice with this? Have others wrestled with this central issue of human existence?
    You just do. No matter how much practice, no matter how "enlightened," it's still going to feel like hell when you lose someone you love. There's no getting around it. But through understanding impermanence and emptiness, it won't be a surprise. I think people who never give these ideas attention are the hardest hit; they never see it coming. Through practice, you see that it never "comes," nothing ever does. There's only now. As Dogen says, birth doesn't lead to death anymore than Winter leads to Spring. They are each their own phenomenal existences. It's only because we think "I don't want him to die,", without realizing there is no identifiable "him" to die, that we suffer. But yet, there is a "him" that goes away.

    So yes, you cry and mourn, it is hard like any change. But then you've still got to live. It's those hard-hit people who are attached to these notions of permanence that end up drowning their sorrows in drugs, alcohol, food, sex, whatever, or maybe even commit suicide.

    I don't know if this makes any sense. I guess the best medicine is not to focus on these future losses; there is no future. Easier said than done.

    Thank you for sharing these intimate thoughts.


  6. #6

    Re: The pain of loss

    Hi everyone!
    I've nothing very profound to add... But I want to thank Stephanie for this post and everyone for the answers... kinda helps me too...

    Thank you all,

  7. #7

    Re: The pain of loss

    Quote Originally Posted by Jinyu
    Hi everyone!
    I've nothing very profound to add... But I want to thank Stephanie for this post and everyone for the answers... kinda helps me too...

    Thank you all,
    Same here.

    Right now I'm spending a week "back home" in Chicago with my mother, in the house I grew up in. It's falling apart, bit by bit, faster than she can maintain it (though she doesn't want to move). The neighborhood is now full of kids with guns. Last week there were two purses from two different women (cash missing, of course) stuffed in the garbage can outside. The neighbors at the end of the alley appear to be running some kind of shady business out of their garage (although I can't be positive; I do have enough sense not to stare.) I get anxiety every time I come here . . . the changes are just so sad. And my mom . . . she takes most of it in stride, but then she is an entirely different person these days too. She used to be so sharp but she's losing her hearing and her thoughts are a bit slow, her short-term memory is going. I get short with her sometimes though I try not to, I know it's not her fault but it upsets me to see it happening. I don't really know where I'm going with this :roll: but I just try to use my practice to keep calm. And to be kind. And to remember a lot of people have to face the same things, if not worse situations.



  8. #8

    Re: The pain of loss

    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    How do we practice with this? Have others wrestled with this central issue of human existence? It just seems so hard to accept that as powerful as love is, it is to time what writing in sand is to the ocean.
    What a beautiful, sad, and profound post. The wonderful thing about writing in the sand is not only that it is impermanent but that every time the ocean washes over is a moment of renewal and possibility. If we can remain curious about and open to that moment of renewal and possibility marvelous things happen. Much easier said than done.

    My father is 84 years old today. His health, and memory are fading. I have made the commitment to spend a full day a week with him (I can't get him to move in with me), just to drink coffee (martinis), eat lunch, and be together (he lives several hours away). We have exchanged words, sentiments, and experiences that have brought us together as never before. And I have been his son for fifty years. It is the fact of his process of change, of the approaching death of his physical body, that has allowed the richness of this relationship to emerge. The moments I have with him now, even when we share silence, are more profound than all the years that have preceded them. Sad, and very beautiful.

    It has been very hard for me to keep in mind that if I release myself from the self-imposed confines of my thinking, unforseen possibilities and the future unfold - unfettered and free.

    This is the reality we cannot escape (and it is this reality that gives life its texture and sad beauty)- in Dogen's words:

    "and though it is like this, it is only that flowers while loved, fall; and weeds while hated, flourish..."

    I am privileged to practice with you.


  9. #9

    Re: The pain of loss

    Years ago, while at a retreat with One Drop Zendo LA (now Tanden Zendo), during kinhin, there was a dandelion plant at a corner near a step. All day, every 40 minutes we did kinhin and my eyes, watching the step, saw this dandelion.
    I was not looking for the dandelion in my walk, but during the walk, there it was: again, again, again.
    All green leaves, a green stalk, and a tight green bud.
    And then, pure magic--the retreat half over, 3/4 over--the bud had opened, a yellow dandelion flower! My eyes filled instantly with tears! Impermanence! A simple, exquisite little lesson in impermanence.

    These film clips today of Japanese houses and then no houses, just pieces of houses. Impermanence, a sudden, stark lesson of impermanence.

    It is daily and it is moment by moment. Yet as much as I acknowledge it, even more I forget and neglect it's everpresence.
    I do not object to the many objects linking me to theres and thens as unused, or useless as they may be.
    I savor my nostalgia, these pieces of places and people and things, the sudden surge of a whole time and place brought forth from a copy of a certain book, a photo, a scrap of a letter in my grandmother's handwriting... impermanence as it is held, in my own curiosity shop, my own natural history museum, my own mental scrap book, and the memory quilt I wrap myself in fashioned from all these.

    I am still very much a householder, an apartment dweller. I am not free of these things.
    When my great cousin died I was sent a box of her mementos: her high school and college scrapbooks, her photo albums.
    The various photos are beautiful: people and babies, dogs, cats, houses, cars, ladies in hats, handsome young men and pretty young women, older couples dressed handsomely in a formal and stiff seated posture...
    What am I to do with these? someone else's ties?
    Well I can't just throw them in the trash.
    They will end up in a landfill soon enough. But not today. not today.

    Today scenes of impermanence, showing itself in frightening and terrifying forms. My heart goes out to what my head can not wrap itself around.

  10. #10

    Re: The pain of loss

    Beautiful post Keishin. Just beautiful.

  11. #11

    Re: The pain of loss

    Thank you all for the beautiful responses.

    I will give them the more thorough response they deserve when I have a keyboard to write with and am not thumb typing on an iPhone!



  12. #12

    Re: The pain of loss

    I have lost more friends to death than I can, or care, to count. I had to put down my beloved Labrador, and my Pointer died while I was away on a trip having fun (the guilt was palpable). My dad is pushing 80 and will likely die in the not too distant future from the various ailments creeping up in him. My mom... hell, she might outlive me. My practice helps me to just look at all this. Just. Look. Death is, so to Just Look at it is something. It happens. Shit happens. And there is nothing I can do about it but Just Look, to bear witness to it. Parts of me died with my friends and my dogs. Big parts of me will die when my parents do. But what else can I do but accept it. Embrace all life's conditions says our metta chant. Be safe and still says our metta chant. These are the things I can do with death. Our practice is not about freedom from suffering; rather, it is about freedom within suffering.

    Hang in there, Steph, and take care of yourself.

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