November 19, 2010
Reaching across the waters and the hours, the mountain ranges and the unshed tears, to the broken and the mended hearts, the shattered lives and those that have reconfigured themselves in astonishing new ways, to you who have crawled across the hot sands of your losses to drink from the oasis of your own deep quiet, and those of you who wish to: I offer you my thanks. You are companions in this wilderness of yearning and inexplicable sweetness.
As families and friends gather to celebrate this season, I want you to know that I recognize you hovering on the edges of the circle of life, wondering where and when and even if you can re-enter the stream after all you have been through. And I bow to you.
All will be well.
I offer a favorite poem by a favorite poet:
by W. S. Merwin
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions
back from a series of hospitals back from a mugging
after funerals we are saying thank you
after the news of the dead
whether or not we knew them we are saying thank you
over telephones we are saying thank you
in doorways and in the backs of cars and in elevators
remembering wars and the police at the door
and the beatings on stairs we are saying thank you
in the banks we are saying thank you
in the faces of the officials and the rich
and of all who will never change
we go on saying thank you thank you
with the animals dying around us
our lost feelings we are saying thank you
with the forests falling faster than the minutes
of our lives we are saying thank you
with the words going out like cells of a brain
with the cities growing over us
we are saying thank you faster and faster
with nobody listening we are saying thank you
we are saying thank you and waving
dark though it is
November 7, 2010
Slowly, my particles are regathering themselves and I am coming back into focus after an utterly yet gently transformational journey to India.
This trip dropped a missing puzzle piece into my life story, integrating my spiritual path, my lineage, my personal history and my grieving process in a way that makes me feel whole and healed. I have loved Maharaji (Neem Karoli Baba, Ram Dass’ guru, whom he first wrote about in BE HERE NOW) since I was thirteen, yet had never been able to make my way to his ashram in the foothills of the Himalayas till now.
The motivation for this odyssey was to commemorate the ninth anniversary of Jenny’s death. In numerology, nine is the number of completion of a cycle, and something in me felt ready to come full circle in my heart. Shortly after Jenny’s cremation nine years ago, a friend hand-delivered some of her ashes to Maharaji’s temple in northern India, and they conducted a ceremony honoring Jenny and the mystical experience she had right before she died. It was time for me to make a pilgrimage to the place where my daughter’s remains were offered into the sacred river that runs through the ashram.
Mataji, Maharaji’s closest devotee and successor, received me with unconditional love and a refreshing lack of sentimentality. Although she is in her late eighties, receives scores of devotees, and oversees every detail of the immaculate ashram, she managed to recall everything about me, about Jenny, and about the state of consciousness Jenny entered prior to her death. On the final night of Durga Puja, a 9-day festival honoring the Divine Mother, Jenny had slipped into an ecstatic state labeled by mental health professionals as psychotic and by spiritual seekers as one of embodying the Divine Feminine. On the third night, when I had made the difficult decision to get her to the hospital, Jenny tricked me, jumped in my car, and drove over the mountain to her death.
Until now, I have not shared this story with many. It’s enough for most people to deal with the fact that my teenaged daughter died in a car crash. The spiritual component of the experience seems too far-fetched to expect people to take in. I once made the mistake of telling the story to a group of five hundred people when I had been invited by a famous spiritual teacher to speak at her conference, and someone in the audience accused me of causing my daughter’s death by exposing her to the dangers of the “Guru-Trip.” Since then I have tried to keep this aspect of Jenny’s death mostly to myself. And yet, for me, it remains the most essential element, and one with which I had not quite come to peace until I sat at the feet of a saint and heard her say: YOUR DAUGHTER DIED IN JOY. So, I take the risk of posting this.
Mataji said other things too, as the weeks unfolded and I spent my time chanting, meditating, and floating around the ashram in a state of deep contentment and childlike wonder. She told me that Jenny left this world exactly when she was supposed to and went exactly where she needed to. She said that her soul had already transcended days before her body died. She told me not to worry, that all is well. She said that Jenny was a very high being, and that she is with me always, watching over me and guiding me, even if I can’t see her, and that I should not cry.
SHE DIED IN JOY, she repeated. That is all any mother could ask for if she must endure the loss of her child: that her death did not cause her suffering. That she died joyous. And that she is not lost at all. That she is right here, always, co-partnering with me in the service I offer to the world in her honor.
I could cross over into skepticism here. I am a trained philosopher and impatient with True Believers of any flavor. Yet the affirmation I received from this amazing woman melted my cynical impulses and filled my heart with peace. I’ll take it wherever I can get it. And I got it at my lifelong guru’s home high in the mountains on the border of Nepal, where spiritual gifts have abounded for millennia. I am grateful to have been able to dip into this sacred stream and carry the blessing back into my life and work and relationships.