A year with my mother

When I said early last year that I was ‘retiring’, little did I know what challenges the following year would hold. It was as if, without realising it, I was clearing the space so that I could be completely available for the journey I was to share with my mother in the following year. Shortly after I decided to withdraw from my public role as a Buddhist priest, my mother was diagnosed with cancer. What had started as a little sore on her face, which she thought was just a mosquito bite, became a virulent facial cancer that quickly spread to the lymphatic nodes in her neck.

And so I became her primary carer throughout the ordeals that followed as her medical team worked to save her life by extensive face and neck surgery, which left her terribly disfigured, and brutal doses of radiation treatment, which caused her enormous pain, utter debilitation and the distress of losing her ability to eat and speak. The doctors held little hope of her recovery and the treatment was in order that she could die in the least amount of pain. It didn’t seem likely that there was very much of a win any way you looked at it. Then after the radiation finished, when she was supposed to be recovering, my mother suffered from a severe MRSA infection of her radiation burns that meant she another long stay in hospital, extremely ill and in continuous pain.

But throughout this nightmare, my mother met these ordeals with enormous courage, humility and dignity. And she was always so appreciative of every little kindness or attention shown to her by the wonderful nurses in the hospital and at home and she never complained. I saw a side of her that deeply moved and inspired me – she was nothing short of truly heroic!

Then, after all this, in order to give a final prognosis, she had another PET scan to see how far the cancer had progressed in her lymphatic system, but the medical team was astonished to find that the cancer had disappeared! This was completely unexpected as the surgery and radiation were seen as palliative measures only. The doctors were at a loss to explain it. However, for my mother the explanation was simple. She was absolutely sure that what had cured her was love: the love of her children who rallied to help, the love of her friends who prayed for her, the love of the nurses who cared for her. She said that throughout these terrible ordeals she could nonetheless feel healing love flowing through her body and she said she drank it up as a sweet medicine, focussing her meditations on fully opening to this love that was all around her. Then as her strength slowly returned and she felt her life-energy returning, she meditated on feelings of gratitude as a way of returning that love into the world.

16.08.19_blossomsAt the time when my mother’s suffering was at its greatest, the almond blossoms at my home were blooming. I cut a twig of almond blossom that still had tight buds and I placed it in a bottle by Mum’s bed. One by one the blossoms burst open and then gradually the petals fell. Mum and I would meditate on the beauty of the almond blossom and reflect on how fleeting and beautiful life is. Even when all the petals had shed, we left them there because somehow they seemed to embody the journey we were sharing. Then, after all the suffering was past and the healing had begun, a whole year and a lifetime later, the almond blossoms once again bloomed this week and again I took a twig of blossoms over to Mum. When she saw the twig she immediately recognised its meaning and we both just hugged and cried because those blossoms still embodied that journey we had taken and yet here we were a year later, still together. It was indeed a miracle.

For me, to bear witness to my mother’s pain and to share in her journey was a tremendous privilege. It is so hard to watch someone you love suffering and to feel that there is nothing you can do to alleviate that suffering. But now I know that the greatest healing gift you can give a loved one who is in pain is to bear witness to their pain with love, to hold their hand and feel your own healing love flowing from your heart into theirs. This is the source of all miracles.

Being Gratitude

Offering prayers at Warrungup Spring

Offering prayers at Warrungup Spring

Meditation:
Breathe in beauty; breathe out gratitude
Take a moment to look around you and allow your eye to settle on something that strikes you as beautiful – the view out the window, the way the light glances off a surface, your own reflection in the computer monitor. Feel that beauty with your body, breathe it in. How wonderful it is to be touched by beauty – realising that something is beautiful fills our hearts with a deep emotion that includes peace, happiness, calm, connection, and gratitude. Feel a sense of gratitude for being blessed with the presence of beauty and, as you breathe out, feel your body respond to that gratitude in a gentle sigh.
Breathe in beauty; breathe out gratitude
What are the blessings in your life – yes, count them ūüôā And with each blessing remembered, breathe out gratitude. After a short while, your whole body will be feeling a gentle soft tenderness that is simply ‘gratitude’ without an object. Rest a while in “being gratitude”.
Breathe in beauty; breathe out gratitude

2013.01.20.01Gratitude is a blossoming flower¬†of spiritual practice. When we feel gratitude, our hearts open up like a flower opens in the nurturing warmth of the sun and we are no longer isolated and alone – there is a profound recognition of connection with another person, a recognition of our interdependent relationship with something and everything that is beyond our narrow framework that defines “me”.

This is the key lesson I have gained from my own spiritual practice, and “being gratitude” was the central focus of my training in preparation for the Womb World initiation given by the Dalai Lama in Japan in April. I have tried a number of times now to write about some of the intense realisations that I experienced during that trip, but each time I have not been able to capture the essence of those experiences in words. I think it will require a book! So many small steps along the path, since I began practicing in the Buddhist way twenty-five years ago after my bout of cancer, which seemed to culminate in a profound moment of understanding and recognition of the blessing that is simply being alive. This recognition released a flood of gratitude to all the people who have helped me in my life, and all my ancestors’ labours that led up to the point of my own existence, and all the people, animals, plants, wind, sunshine, earth…all the entire cosmos somehow working together so that I might live. How profoundly humbling!

Fishes in Warrungup Spring

Fishes in Warrungup Spring

It has been one hundred now since the Dalai Lama initiated me into the Womb World. During that time I have continued to practice the rituals associated with that initiation, including reciting 10,000 mantras each day. Over this one hundred days I have also continued to offer the prayers that were entrusted to me and yesterday I went down to the sacred Warrungup Spring and made a ritual of reciting the names of petitioners and finally offering up their prayers, which marked the end of that prayer cycle. The sun came out just as I offering the last name and seemed to fill the world with light and blessings.

This active, yang cycle is now complete. Now it is time for me once again to withdraw into a passive, yin cycle that rests, reflects and contemplates. ¬†In honouring and nurturing our spiritual lives, it is essential to¬†carefully¬†balance the yang of outward-flowing energy that is active, with equal amounts of yin practice that draws energy inward and is passive and quiet: to rest in gratitude. Therefore, I will not be engaging in my usual public Wabi’an events for the time being. This means there will be no Kuan Yin Day in August. Thank you for your understanding.

Breathe in beauty; breathe out gratitude

Emily Kngwarreye’s Mandala

Anwerlarr anganenty (Big yam Dreaming) by Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Anwerlarr anganenty (Big yam Dreaming) by Emily Kame Kngwarreye

This week is Naidoc Week and I so I wanted to share with you¬†one of my favourite paintings: It is called Amwerlarr Anganenty (Big Yam Dreaming), painted by Emily Kame Kngawarreye, an Anmatyerre woman from Utopia community, 250 kms north-east of Alice Springs. It is a massive painting 3m x 8m, taking up one whole wall of the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, so it is difficult to capture the majesty of the painting in such a little photo. However, I have been fortunate enough to sit in the gallery on several occasions and meditate up on this deeply spiritually moving image and if you live in Victoria, I highly recommend you visit Emily’s painting.

Emily Kame Kngwarreye

Emily Kame Kngwarreye

On the surface the image is a representation of Emily’s Country, Alhalker, and her Dreaming, which is the amwerlarr (pencil yam), and suggests the lines of the roots of the pencil yam as it covers the earth. Emily painted this all in the course of two days, sitting on the canvas, laid out on the red desert earth, and covering it with thick white lines, all the time singing her Dreaming story as she painted. Emily started painting when she was 80 years old and to me this reveals the greatest significance of her work: her profound wisdom. In her paintings she re-creates the wisdom of countless generations passed on to her by teachings from her Elders over many decades. When Emily was asked what her¬†painting was about, Emily simply replied “Whole lot, that’s whole lot… That’s what I paint, whole lot.” That is, although this painting looks like the roots of the yam, in fact there is a much deeper significance to her work: it is a visual representation of the whole cosmos, in the same way that¬†the great Buddhist mandalas reveal the Truth that underlies our superficial understanding of reality. Within the lines of the painting there is a profound and mystical teaching that, even if we can’t understand it intellectually, we can receive by quietly meditating on the image. This is the same as the Buddhist practice of meditating on a mandala.

Diamond World Samaya Mandala

Diamond World Samaya Mandala

In a Buddhist mandala the image might be of a particular deity or set of symbols, but that is only the superficial meaning of the painting. Underlying the lines of the painted work is a deeper teaching that has come from the vision of an enlightened person Рthe one who first painted that mandala, who had a deep experiential understanding of Reality Рwhich is then copied over periods of centuries by monks who then use the image as an object of meditation. Using your eyes as your instrument of practice, meditate upon the mandala and allow the teaching that is inherent within it to connect to your own deep innate wisdom.

Emily’s wisdom pours forth from her entire being as she sings her¬†painting into life, through the medium of paint and brush, as an extension of herself not separate from the land, onto the canvas. Within the painting there is a story about Country that relates to the way people have an¬†inherent interconnection with the land around them – the land that contains and includes the self, or self as a microcosm of the land itself, inseparable. Although the superficial meaning of the¬†painting is the roots of the yam, within the lines and, far more importantly, between the spaces are revealed deep teachings of a cosmic Truth that can be apprehended not with the mind but with whole body simply being¬†in its presence and meditating upon the lines in quiet stillness – allowing the message to seep into your own being via your eyes.

And this is exactly what Emily Kame Kgnwarreye is offering us in her mesmerising paintings Рmandalas that offer us profound spiritual teachings that connect to our own deep wisdom. This is the sacred offering that the ancestors of this land have to share with all of us, regardless of  our colour or background Рhow to recognise and apprehend our inseparable, ineffable spiritual connection with the land. So I encourage you to sit quietly and meditate upon the works of the Elders.

Happy NAIDOC Week ūüôā

Emily Kngwarreye working on the painting "Earth's Creation"

Emily Kngwarreye working on the painting “Earth’s Creation”