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#1493 - Tuesday, July 15, 2003 - Editor: Jerry
EMPATHY, SYMPATHY, COMPASSION & HOSPICE
Perceval asked "could you tell us more about the hospice,
course, and your motivations for volunteering?"
My mother was an RN, my father was a surgeon. They met in a
hospital towards the end of WWII in New Orleans. I was born
there, and a few years later we moved west 150 miles, to a
small town in Acadiana (home of Cajuns).My dad owned the
hospital, which had been developed by converting a turn of the
century 3-story wooden hotel.
He was determined that I would follow in his footsteps, so my
formative years were spent making house calls. No one had much
money, my father would usually get paid in Nazi flags, or
pistols, Japanese swords, fresh eggs, chickens, or ducks.
Yours truly rode in the front seat, I would read the newspaper
to my Dad while he drove. On the way home, the live birds,
with their feet tied securely, rested in my lap. The roads
were mostly unpaved, covered with shell. One night, a large
alligator blocked the driveway to a dying man's home. My Dad
left the head lights shining into its eyes, opened the trunk,
took a hatchet, walked around and approached the alligator
from the dark side, dispatched him, and we made our housecall.
When I grew a little older, I was scrubbed, placed on a stool
in the corner of the OR, with a bird's eye view of the
operating table. My father was also the coroner, I was with
him many times when he was radioed to the scene of a fatality.
I saw death close up many times, from homes in the country, to
hospital wards, to accidents.
To make a long story short, I did not pursue a medical career.
In fact, I think that I had a very strong fear of death.
Perhaps I saw too much too soon. But my adult life was spent
racing away from death. I kept a killer schedule, of work,
volunteering, and sports, which precluded any serious
thinking. I could deny my mortality by refusing to think about
it. Anytime that feelings, or disturbing thoughts did arise,
they were quickly medicated away with alcohol and prescription
In 1996 I had a serious heart attack on a Thursday night. From
sundown Friday to sunrise Saturday, I was dying. My pain grew
more and more intense, till my body began to disconnect. I
felt calm, serene, at peace. I felt that each heart beat could
literally be my last. I knew that I might die. I prayed,
"Lord, Jesus, I am ready...but I would like a little more time
with Carolynne"...I felt his presence so strongly, that I knew
for certain, if I could only raise my head, and look back, we
would be face to face...but alas, I was too weak to move at
I had open heart surgery, and began a long road to recovery.
Over the next seven years I lost my career, my savings, and
finally my home. We moved to Canada in July of 2001. That was
the week that I finally decided that I did want to live. I
quit alcohol cold turkey July 1, 2001. Within 6 months I was
also off of all tranquilizers, antidepressants, and pain
During this time, as I was suffering withdrawal most
intensely, I began to meditate on a regular basis, and to
journal. These were key elements in my recovery. And as my
mind slowly returned to sobriety and sanity, I began to face
reality. I allowed myself to relive the painful memories I had
repressed for decades. I felt the shame for my cruel treatment
of others. Finally, I was able to forgive myself, and to
forgive those who had hurt me. I was able to face my own
mortality, to accept what I had tried to run away from in over
50 years of frantic effort.
As I meditated, the first thing that came back was empathy. I
began to identify with all of creation, its beauty, its
grandeur, its incredible size and scope, and I felt a sense of
oneness with all living beings, especially with other humans.
I no longer cared if they were young or old, rich or poor,
male or female, white or black, hetero or homo, Christian or
atheist...it just didn't matter any more. Then I began to feel
sympathy...I began to pray for racial minorities, for abused
and exploited women and children, for victims of war, and
famine all around the world. My heart filled with compassion,
I wanted to do something, anything, to help, in some way.
Until now, I have not been able to do much but pray.
I first learned about hospice through one of my Bible study
students in the states. She was a wonderful woman, a dear
friend to Carolynne and I. Her husband was dying of cancer. We
visited often over the course of a year. During his final
months, he was in hospice. Carolynne was at his bedside,
tending to him in the middle of the night, when he died.
Recently, I got my work permit, and my SIN number from the
Canadian government. They are very strict, you can not even do
volunteer work for charity until you have these. It has taken
me almost two years, and about $2,000.00 in fees. But I am
finally able to work. So when I began circulating my resume, I
also volunteered to serve with hospice.
I will meet with the Director of Agape Hospice and her
assistant for an in-depth interview on August 14th. If
accepted, I will enroll in a 30 hour course, which costs
$50.00, in the fall. Hopefully I will be serving by the end of
No matter how fast we run, no matter how hard we fight with
exercise, diet, and even plastic surgery, we are all fighting
a losing battle with gravity, and with time. In my remaining
time, I want to experience joy, not just happiness. I have
come to understand, that joy flows from doing things for
others. I have a strong desire to help others, especially
those who are facing death, or the loss of a loved one. I love
the philosophy of Hospice. In simple layman's terms, they seem
to me to be dedicated to treating the dying with respect, and
courtesy, with kindness, with a listening ear. Every person
deserves to die with the maximum of dignity, and with the
minimum of pain. I would love to be part of this work.
"Death" by Thomas Kincade
Mark (Lerner) Recalls Lex (Hixon)'s Vision of the Key Master
I am a little tired having just now mowed the lawn with my
lawn mower-- not easy, probably could afford a new one,
probably should...No matter, put that in --God forbid not to
make someone think poor guy we must get him a lawnmower for
Christmas (or well then it would be a snow blower but) to show
practicality but I expect didn't succeed in showing much,
well...but the remainder of this post will go in a slightly
mystical direction, so perhaps it is not the first time but...
I am remembering from the retreat Mark Lerner's
the phrase of the Lord's Prayer Thy Will be done on earth as
it is in heaven this led him to a memory of a mutual friend of
his and mine, departed now, Lex Hixon and to reading a bit
from his writing, which in turn put me in mind of the Key
Master in Ghostbusters or the Key Maker in Matrix Rebooted.
There is something about this line of thought that I remember
with interest and think it would be a good way of thinking
about it to write it down and that perhaps it may interest you
(1) Mark (Lerner)
Mark starts his meditation on the Earth and Heaven thought by
saying that his mother died on October 31, all Hallows Eve,
and Lex Hixon on November 1st the next day so he always sort
of thought Lex had perhaps brought his mother through to
AllSaints with him...On the morning of one of those days he
was praying in front of an icon in his room looking out over a
beautiful autumn day and he was struck by a sense of the
presence of his mother and of Lex with him together within a
great peace...he opened some writing of Lex's and it was at a
cold autumn day
burns sky clear
so many trees and colors
unaccountably my heart is singing
He added that he regarded Lex as a deeply Christian man and
spiritual guide although he was a student and also
practicioner of many spiritual ways...Well I have written
about Lex before so that cannot be to the point here... Mark
read a version of a dream which Lex had, or said he had (it
strikes me as possibly a composed dream or working of 'active
imagination' at least in part) it is this which seems to me to
have some features of interest which I would like to consider
(2) Lex's Dream .
Now I am paraphrasing Mark's reading of a version of Lex's
dream, which is in print in a fuller and somewhat different
He is speaking to a spiritual guide and somehow outside of our
normal Space and Time and he asks about hell whether there is
such a place and the guide says that knowing God as compassion
without limit it would be impossible, but some in waking to
God's world are unable to bear the light and sleeping again
dream fitfully for a time and this is what we have called
hell, and then he asks about Heaven and all the beauty of
paradise, and he is told yes this also is in a sense a dream
but it is the dream of God Himself and our own world is our
fragmented perception of God's great dream of the garden above
which is a true dream and not like our broken and fevered
dreaming, and Lex then saw himself as at a distance standing
beside his house by the Hudson and looking out there, and yet
also in this other place and realized that one lives at once
in both the fragmented world and the world of paradise and the
two are in their ground the same within the creative visioning
of God... and then Lex asks the guide, who in the version
Mark reads is now seen to be Jesus himself, "and are you also
then a dream?" And the reply... "No, I am the Key and the
holder of the Key, to the Lock, to the Door, the dream Door
which opens to the world of unconditioned Divine Love which
alone is Real beyond all dreaming..."
Frank remarks that it seems to show some influence of
Ghostbusters with the Key Master... and I think of the Key
Maker of the recent movie, and Mark takes our irreverance (we
are not all that mystical a circle) in good part, yes of course
our spiritual ideas and writing and even dreams and visions
are formed by things like movies...
But I am thinking it is a striking imagery in its way isn't
it? A little like the worlds within worlds which open up at
the end of Lewis' Narnia stories as they go "further up and
further in" to reality and see their own world in perfect
clarity at the same time as being within its inner and deeper
worldhood... But, while in general I will the more take Lewis
as guide in the imaginal world and in theology and all such
things, here Lex in adding the Key and the Door does add
something which Lewis in that place left out...
And here, as I now look at some writing of Lex's I see the
verse (in which he is using a Buddhist setting which he would
have felt complementary...)
Cherry blossoms raining,
Buddha door opening,
And then there are of course the words of John chapter 10
where it was said not in a dream... "Truly, I say unto you, I
am the door of the sheep. All that ever came before me are
thieves and robbers: but the sheep did not hear them. I am the
door: by me if any enter in, ... they shall go in and out, and
It seems to me that in some way this reflects back and forth
to and from Lex's dream...or I am seeing it so... the word
that those that came before were thieves is commented by
Valentin Tomberg that they were "thieves of Being" since they
could not open the way of exchanged Love or know a way to life
which is eternal and is personal and yet is not divided...all
foundering on the question of duality and nonduality resolved
only in Love, Tomberg says...but we have come far enough in
Perhaps it can be interesting to some...if not forgive knowing
that it really is interesting to me and I wanted to share...
and I suppose it is nothing I have not thought before but
...Dream and Door and ...let it be Key Master or one who is at
the door or is the door... the hinge... these things seem
interesting to me...
as always invite your reflections either on this or on
anything at all... yours +Seraphim Sigrist
Ram Chandran Advaitin
the following is from the Emotional Literacy Dictionary: http://encyclopediaoftheself.com/emotional-literacy-dictionary-vocabulary.shtml
Nirvana (Nirúvaúna) (nr-v1ne, ner-) n.
[Sanskrit, nirvNam, a blowing out, extinction, nirvana: nis-, nir-, out, away + vti, it blows. Pali, nibbana; Jap., nehan]
1. Often Nirvana, a. Buddhism. The ineffable ultimate in which one has attained disinterested wisdom and compassion. b. Hinduism. Emancipation from ignorance and the extinction of all attachment.
2. An ideal condition of rest, harmony, stability, or joy.
3. The ability to consciously pause an activity or activities of the mind. Her mind became inactive, the result was the experience of nirvana.
4. A state of liberation from unhappiness. Illumination, characterized by the merging of the individual, transitory I in consciousness. Nirvana frees one from suffering and fear of death. It is the highest, transcendent consciousness, referred to in the Bhagavad-Gita as brahman-nirvana, in the Upanishads as turiya, in yoga as nirbija-samadhi, and in Vedanta as nirvikalpa-samadhi.
5. The goal of spiritual practice in all branches of Buddhism. In the understanding of early Buddhism, it is departure from the cycle of unhappiness and entry into an entirely different mode of existence. It requires complete overcoming of the three unwholesome roots--undisciplined-desire, hatred, and delusion (akushala). Nirvana is unconditioned (asamskrita) consciousness. Its characteristic marks are pausing the activities of the mind in a state of consciousness.
6. In Mahayana, nirvana is an emphasis on the unified nature of the world. Nirvana is conceived as a human experience of oneness with unconditioned consciousness (the absolute). Which gives insight into the unity of the world (samsara), body, mind and soul. It is a state of transcending conditioned consciousness. It is also described as dwelling in the experience of the intense bliss in cognizing one's identity with unconditioned consciousness. It is freedom from attachment to the states of unhappiness, satisfaction and happiness.
7. In the West nirvana has often been misunderstood as mere annihilation; even in early Buddhism it was not so conceived. Nirvana literally means "The blowing out of a candle". The fire that goes out does not pass away, but merely becomes invisible by passing into a conscious experience of space (akasha); thus the term nirvana does not indicate annihilation but rather entry into another mode of existence and experience. The fire that comes forth is the self. From consciously experiencing space the self dissolves momentarily. Self-flame thus returns back, and the conscious experience of space dissolves. Thus nirvana is a special experience not conceived by the perception of sight, but rather by consciously discarding conditioned brainwave activity. It is an experience that takes place in time but is also a timeless experience. This is the "emptiness" which is referred to in Buddhist Sutras.
8. Nirvana means "bliss," but far more often nirvana is characterized merely as a process of the cessation of the states of unhappiness, satisfaction, and happiness. For Buddhism, which sees all of human existence as suffering, nirvana interpreted as the cessation of suffering suffices as a goal for the spiritual effort.
9. In Hinayana two types of nirvana are distinguished: nirvana which consists of knowledge and nirvana where knowledge exists though in an uncreated form. Both being experiences of different modes of consciousness. It is reached through successively overcoming the various states of mind; knowledge of unhappiness, knowledge of satisfaction and knowledge of happiness. For the overcoming of each state a specific "realm of knowledge" is acquired. For the Sautrantikas nirvana is just the transcendence of the lower states of knowledge; unhappiness, satisfaction and happiness, but not their complete disappearance. The knowledge of nirvana is based on knowledge of unhappiness, satisfaction and happiness. Therefore, transcendence means additional knowledge, not discarding of knowledge. In the Vatsiputriya school, which puts forth the idea of the "individual" (pudgala, anatman), nirvana is a positive state in which the individual's knowledge continues to exist and grow, but is easily turned off when not needed. Leaving a bright clear consciousness associated with sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. Thinking becomes focused, direct and clear.
10. In Mahayana nirvana has a positive character, since it is state of awareness of one's identity with unclouded consciousness. The experience of unity that encompasses the experiencer includes one's own body and mind. In this view, there is no essential distinction between the soul, mind, body or world, because they are experienced in an interconnected way.
11. Two types of nirvana are distinguished: indeterminate (apratishthita-nirvana) and complete (pratishthita-nirvana). In actuality, the experiencer moves between both types of nirvana. Having the capability to cease the activities of the mind and to create mental activity in various combinations of thought, seeing, hearing and remembering, etc.
12. The Madhyamikas see nirvana as emptiness (shunyata), which they define as "coming to rest of the manifold creations of the mind." This means the cessation or absence (temporarily) of the activity of the mind. Nirvana is a conscious experience of the oneness with reality that had always existed, only is not recognized. Nirvana and samsara are not different if one perceives the world in its true nature, which is emptiness. It is our discriminating mind that prevents us from recognizing this true nature.
13. Nirvana for the Yogachara is the awareness that the world as we know it is a manifestation of the mind. This "mind-only" teaching is the cessation of discrimination of the world, nirvana and all objects. Experiences are made of objects in the presence of the senses interacting with the mind. The perception that the objects seen are separate from the mind are created as a result of an unconsciousness mind. This school recognizes two types of nirvana: that of the arhat, with whom, only silent knowledge remains. It is a coming to rest, a consciously experienced bliss. The nirvana of the Buddha is seen as a conscious exercise of compassion. Where the Buddha knowingly seeks ways to help others attain nirvana. In this form of nirvana, which exhibits a positive character and represents conscious unity with all beings, the individual continues in force.
14. In Zen Buddhism nirvana is the realization of the true nature of the mind (consciousness), which is identical with the true nature of how human beings experience their world--the buddha-nature (bussho). This realization is only possible through wisdom. Thus nirvana is often equated with prajna. In the Zen sense, prajna and nirvana are two aspects of the same state. Nirvana is the state in which a person lives who has attained prajna and thus also insight into his own mind or true nature; and prajna is the wisdom of a person who has attained nirvana. "The Bodhisattva's nirvana is perfect tranquillity, but it is not extinction nor inertness." Buddha, Lankavatara Scripture, Goddard.
15. Early Chinese Buddhism, which originated the Nirvana School in the 5th century, includes the teachings of the Mahaparinirvana-sutra. The teachings of this sutra are nirvana is eternal, joyous, personal, and pure in nature. This contrasts with the view put forward in the Prajnaparamita-sutra, in which nirvana is described as the realization of emptiness (shunyata). All beings possess buddha-nature and can attain buddhahood. In this sense the true self is like the Tathagata. The Nirvana school also originated the practice, so characteristic of Chinese Buddhism, of dividing the teachings of the Buddha into phases. The Mahaparinirvana-sutra is considered to be the last of the Buddha's discourses.
Nibbana: Pali //nibbana//, Sanskrit //nirvana//. The meaning is "extinction," that is, of the "fires" of lust, hate, and delusion, or, more briefly, of craving and ignorance, and so nibbana is a name for the third Truth as liberation. The word is made up of the prefix //nir// (not) and //vana// (effort of blowing; figuratively, craving); probably the origin was a smith's fire, which goes out or becomes extinguished (//nibbayati//) if no longer blown on by the bellows; but the simile most used is that of a lamp's extinguishment (//nibbana//) through exhaustion of wick and oil. Wheel Publication No. 17. c 1981, 1995 Buddhist Publication Society.
There's always something stopping me from falling into the sky
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